MORIARTY, N.M. (AP) - Families are coming home to find their dogs had vanished from inside houses, behind locked fences and outdoor kennels in rural communities east of Albuquerque.

But with the Nov. 16 arrest of a woman accused of stealing two pit bulls in Moriarty, authorities think they have confirmed suspicions that the animals were victims of an overzealous animal rescuer turned serial dog-napper.

Edgewood animal control officer Mike Ring says the arrest of 59-year-old Debbie Swenerton "really cracked the case" of some 60 dogs gone missing over the past few years.

Ring says he suspects Swenerton could be part of a network of activists who are concerned about the treatment of animals in rural areas, where many dogs are tied up, live outside or roam freely.

Swenerton's attorney calls the charges ridiculous.

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