An animal rescue group is warning pet owners of what they say is a growing trend of people stealing dogs across Metro Vancouver.

"It is beyond alarming; it is a crisis," said Susan Patterson, founder of Thank Dog I Am Out Dog Rescue. "Dogs are disappearing from stores, coffee shops and backyards at a very high rate over the last 12 months."

Patterson said since the weather has been warmer and people are out more, the non-profit has been receiving notifications daily of missing dogs that are believed to have been stolen.

"It is such a horrifying experience to have your dog taken. It's sick, it's like losing a family member," she said. "Please don't leave your pets unattended because you are at risk of having your pet stolen these days, way more than a year ago."

The group doesn’t specialize in looking for missing pets but because of its following, dog owners have been contacting it for help.

Its volunteers have participated in 10 searches and nine of the dogs have been located in the Downtown Eastside, despite them being stolen from different parts of Metro Vancouver.

"I think there's a very small number of people that are transient that are taking the dogs. But if the dogs are in the Downtown Eastside, the community has been incredibly helpful in leading us to find the dogs," she said.

From those searches, she said the outcome for the dogs tends to fall into three categories: sold for cash, companionship or taken out of province.

In the case of one dog still missing, Patterson believes it was likely taken outside of B.C. because hiding a 90-pound Rottweiler with a lot of attention would be hard to do.

She has posted a public service announcement on social media, warning owners not to leave their pets unattended.

"A year ago, I wouldn’t have worried about it so much but now it's happened so frequently that if you're complacent…your odds have increased, for some reason this year in the Lower Mainland, your dog may disappear."

'It was a nightmare': Owner shares first-hand experience

Mark Milburn said he never had to worry about leaving his white Jack Russell, Heli, outside on her own until just two weeks ago.

Heli was snatched up outside of Milburn's office in the Downtown Eastside.

"I said 'Heli, let's go.' And it was in that moment, I realized my dog wasn't here and when I checked the front door and she was gone," he said.

He said his heart sank when he realized she disappeared and he knew immediately she was stolen because she would rarely stray away.

He felt immense guilt knowing that he left her there by mistake and immediately he started to look for her.

While it was a terrifying experience, he said it experience opened his eyes to the kindness of those living in the Downtown Eastside.

"Every single person we met was willing to help. Some of the experiences have been insane, like, we gave a guy a flyer and he had been to a hospital, he had two drug overdoses and three days later, he remembered my name, he remembered how old Heli was and he still had Heli's flyer in his pocket. He said 'I'm still trying to find her.'"

In the four days that she was missing, there were multiple social media posts, 5,000 handbills and 2,000 posters.

The efforts paid off and someone recognized Heli near Oppenheimer Park.

Milburn was overjoyed when they were finally reunited.

"It was an adventure for her, a nightmare for me."

He later met the person who took Heli.

"The person who took Heli had an addiction and was probably down and out, and was just looking for a companion and they didn't take her and sell her for drugs."

He feels grateful to have her back and now won't be letting her out of his sight.

"I won't be tying her outside a restaurant, knowing that there is a ring of people out there taking dogs for that malicious purpose, it's not worth risking it."