When i answered the doorbell and saw a tall, portly man dressed in a blue suit and holding a large manila envelope, I assumed he was a salesman. I couldn't have been more wrong.
"Is this the home of Sir Barks-a-lot?" he asked in a pleasant voice.
"Yes, that's my dog's name," I replied. "Why do you ask?"
He reached into the envelope, took out a black-and-white photograph, and handed it to me. The photo showed a large German shepherd standing in a line of customers at a checkout counter.
"Is that your dog?" the man asked.
"No," I said. "Sir Barks-a-lot is a black Lab and he's over there."
I pointed to the living room, where my old pal was dozing on the sofa. The man slid the photo back into the envelope, and then displayed a gold-colored badge. The words "Special Investigator" were printed across the top.
"I work for a private security firm," he explained, "and we've got a situation you need to know about. May I come in?"
I led him into the living room. We sat in two overstuffed chairs that faced the sofa. The dog opened his eyes but didn't bother to lift his head.
"I assumed he would bark at me," the man said. "His name, you know."
"Those days are gone," I said. "He's 15. The barking tapered off quite a while back. So what's going on with that photo?"
"It's from a surveillance video recorded two days ago at a pet supply store on the other side of town," the man answered. "The German shepherd began chasing another dog through the aisles, and while the staff was busy trying to corner them, a substantial amount of merchandise was removed from a storage area. But the shepherd lost one of his tags during the commotion, and that's what led me here."
"Are you saying...?" I paused.
"Yes," he continued, "Sir Barks-a-lot is a victim of pet identity theft. It's an awful new trend popping up all over the country. You meet a friendly stranger while walking the dog and that person reaches down to scratch behind his ears, and they're secretly memorizing his ID number. Suddenly, your loyal companion is accused of nefarious acts he didn't commit, and his reputation is down the tubes."
"I can't believe this," I said. "What should we do?"
"Get a new license number – today," the man said. "If you don't correct the problem quickly, the ripple effects can be dreadful. Suddenly, the doggie day-care center has no space available. Your groomer doesn't return phone messages. I know of one champion toy poodle that almost had all her ribbons taken away before things got straightened out."
"I'll get on it right away," I assured him.
The man stood up and patted Sir Barks-a-lot on the head. "Sorry about this," he said. "It's not your fault. We're the ones who need to be kept on a short leash."