Sophie Jackson is a dog lover and trainer living in the UK. She competes in agility and obedience with her four dogs.
Having your dog stolen is a pet lover's worst nightmare. Wondering what has happened to them and if you will ever see them again, all adds to the heartache. Sadly, the legal penalties for dog theft are minor, which makes stealing pets a tempting option for those wanting to earn some easy money or for those who operate dog fights.
Fortunately, there are a number of ways we can keep our pets safe and make them difficult, if not impossible, to steal. Most theft is an act of opportunity and thieves will look for easy targets. Making life as hard as possible for thieves to get to your dogs is the best way to keep them safe.
Is Dog Theft on the Rise?
Dog theft has always been a problem as long as there have been dogs as pets. Recent headlines in newspapers and on social media make it appear that it is on the rise and has naturally led to people being very scared for the well being of their pets.
Dog theft, however, is a more complicated issue than simply thieves stealing any dog they happen to see. While statistics are not always easy to get hold of, those that are available reveal certain patterns in what thieves are looking for when going after dogs.
Dog theft in the UK actually decreased by 23% between 2018 and 2019, according to Direct Line insurance. However, this still means an average of six dogs are stolen every day. Thieves are picky about the breeds they steal, as they are usually looking for dogs they can sell on quickly.
The theft of crossbreeds dropped by 42% in 2019, but thefts of cocker spaniels increased by 93%. Thieves follow puppy buying trends and currently, cocker spaniels are seen as hugely popular and easy to sell on.
In contrast, thefts of French Bulldogs in 2019 decreased by 65% and thefts of Jack Russells decreased by 69%.
Sadly only 22% of stolen dogs were returned to their owners.
Reliable statistics for dog theft in the US are harder to come by, but some sources, including the American Kennel Club, indicate that around 2 million domestic animals are stolen each year with a rise in dog theft of 31% since 2007. Only around 10% of stolen pets are ever recovered.
During the COVID-19 crisis in 2020, it has been suggested that dog thefts increased even further, due to higher prices being asked for puppies and a greater demand for dogs due to people being at home more.
Why Are Dogs Stolen?
Dogs are generally stolen for profit. One way this is achieved is by dog thieves targeting specific breeds that are popular and stealing them to sell on. In the US this is called 'dog flipping' where a dog is stolen to be then sold to an unsuspecting buyer.
Dogs may also be stolen to prompt a reward being offered for their return. The thieves then return the dog and earn the money.
Both male or female dogs may be stolen and sold to puppy farms (or kept by the thief for the same purpose). They are then used as breeding machines to produce further puppies that can be sold for profit. When these dogs become too old they are dumped or killed.
Dog Fights and Illegal Sports
Dogs are sometimes stolen to be used for dogfighting. Depending on their breed and temperament, they may be used as 'bait' to train other dogs to fight, or might be encouraged to fight themselves.
Certain breeds may be targeted for use in other illegal sports, for instance, lurchers are taken to be used for hare or deer coursing, while Jack Russell terriers might be used in badger baiting.
Occasionally pets are stolen for other reasons, such as an estranged spouse or relative stealing a dog they believe is their own, or a neighbour stealing and dumping a dog that they consider a nuisance.
Which Breeds Are More Likely to Be Stolen?
While any dog might be stolen, and all dog owners should take precautions against this, the breed, age and condition of a dog is often a factor in the crime.
The breeds that are most commonly stolen change depending on what is currently popular among puppy buyers.
In the UK the current top ten breeds targeted by thieves are:
- Staffordshire Bull Terrier
- Designer crossbreeds (cockerpoos, etc)
- Cocker Spaniel
- Yorkshire Terrier
- French Bulldog
- Border Collie
- Jack Russell
In the US the current top ten breeds targeted by thieves are:
- Yorkshire Terrier
- Boston Terrier
- French Bulldog
- American Pitbull Terrier
- German Shepherd
- Labrador Retriever
Thieves looking for a quick resale are likely to target younger dogs, especially puppies. While dogs that are entire and can still reproduce are targeted by thieves for breeding purposes. Small breed dogs are very easy to steal and re-sell, they are often owned by older people who may be unable to protect their dog if approached by thieves.
The Most Common Places for Dogs to Be Stolen
Most dog thieves are opportunists who will take dogs when their owners are out of sight. It is unusual for a dog thief to approach a person and attempt to snatch a dog directly from them, though it has happened.
It is far easier for a thief to take an unattended dog than to confront an owner. Here are five of the commonest places dogs are taken from.
- Gardens: Dogs left out in gardens that can be easily accessed by intruders make prime targets for thieves. The Pet Census revealed that 52% of dogs that are stolen are taken from their own gardens. This is especially true if your dog is very people friendly and will wander off with anyone who approaches them.
- Outside shops or businesses: Dogs left tied up outside a property while the owner is inside are at great risk of being taken. They are also in danger of other harm befalling them, such as being attack by other dogs or being tormented by uncaring people.
- Cars: When left alone in a car, a dog is at risk not only of being stolen but of heatstroke in hot weather. Just as you would not leave your purse or laptop on view in a car, in case it was stolen, you should not leave your dog in the car.
- Parks: Thieves will take advantage of busy parks to lure your dog away, or to grab them when they are out of your sight.
- Kennels: Dogs that live in outside kennels are targeted by thieves because they can access them without alerting the owners and, if stolen at night, it can be many hours before the owner becomes aware the dogs are missing.
How to Keep Your Dog Safe
Because most thieves are opportunists, the main way to prevent them from stealing your dog is by making it too hard for them. There are lots of ways recommended by the police to achieve this and most are inexpensive.
- Supervise your dog outside: Never leave your dog in the garden alone, especially if it is a front garden, has a low fence or a gate with no lock. It is particularly important you don't leave your dog outside when you are not at home, as this gives a big window of opportunity for dog thieves to take your pet.
- Spay or neuter your pet: This is a controversial option, but many thieves are looking for dogs to use in puppy farms, so having your dog spayed or neutered makes them less attractive. You can list this on their ID tags to discourage casual thieves.
- Install CCTV: This is especially important if your dogs are kept in outside kennels. You can also install alarm systems or motion-sensitive lights around the kennels to scare off intruders. Put up signs stating you have CCTV installed to act as an extra deterrent.
- Remove 'beware of dog' signs: Signs on garden gates that advertise you have dogs in your home only make it easier for thieves to identify targets.
- Put up fences and gates - High fences make it harder for thieves to get into your garden, adding a secure lock to gates also makes it difficult for intruders and prevents a gate being left open by accident.
- Microchip them: It is a legal requirement for all dogs to be microchipped and the details need to be kept up-to-date. If a dog is microchipped it is easier for it to be traced back to its owner.
- Never leave dogs unattended in public: Dogs should not be left tied up outside shops or in cars. It only takes a moment for a thief to snatch them.
- Vary walking routes: Though it is uncommon, thieves looking for a specific breed may target a person and learn their walking routes. If you can vary your walking time and where you go, this makes it harder for thieves.
- Make sure your dog has a good recall: When off lead, a good recall means you can keep your dog in view while it enjoys itself.
- Train your dog to not go up to strangers: Dogs that won't approach strangers are harder for thieves to snatch.
- Be careful of social media: Avoid posting specific details about your pet and where you walk or live on social media. You can set up private groups and pages to share details about your pets to friends and family.
What to Do If Your Pet Is Stolen
If you believe your pet has been stolen the sooner you act, the better.
- Immediately report your pet is missing to the microchip databases Petlog, PETtrac and Identibase. They will notify you if your pet is found.
- Report the theft to the police at once.
- Put up posters with a photograph of your dog and your contact details in the local area.
- Submit your dog's details to a website such as DogLost, where they can be easily shared to the general public.
- Post on social media to raise awareness and also to make it harder for the thieves to sell on your dog.
How To Prevent Dog Theft Efficiently?
Although the best advice is to train your common sense, there are some important advice to pinpoint so dog owners and dog breeders keep their pooches for as long as possible.
Do Not Leave Your Dog(s) Alone
This problem is a great example of some complicated issues having a very simple remedy. If you do not want someone malevolent to steal your dogs, do not leave your dogs unattended, at least in public.
How many times have I seen dogs, alone, outside a store? Or in a car on a parking lot? Or even outside a coffee shop while the owner is warm inside? These behaviors are yelling “Steal My Dog!” and often, they do get stolen. Would you leave your baby outside, unattended, for 15 minutes? No—so don’t let your dog sit outside alone.
Most stolen dogs are robbed by strangers while they are not with their owner, therefore by following this advice, you will minimize the risks of theft.
A dog left alone in Central Park… (Source: rover.com)
Change Your Walks' Schedule & Routes
Some specific dogs, worth a lot of money, are sometimes targeted and snatched during their daily walks. It is always recommended, with or without a dog, to vary your routes and timings. When possible, use a different park or green space rather than going to the same spot every day.
This painless injection of a tiny microchip the size of a grain of rice inserted under the animal’s skin will make sure that, if your animal is found, any institution will link the pet to you and increases the chances of being reunited.
Dog Breeders Welcoming Visitors Should Be Accompanied
If you advertise your dogs online, for a hefty price, you want to take all precautions possible to avoid ill-intentioned “prospects” viewings dogs and leaving with them. The best thing to do is to be accompanied and perhaps use a recording camera pointing at your entrance so if it happens, the police will be put in the right direction.
Train Your Dogs To a Perfect Recall
More than 10 million pets are lost or stolen each year.ASPCA
A huge part of these dogs is nicked while they are lost or astray. It usually occurs while owners are walking the dog or playing with their pup without a leash and the pet suddenly runs off and disappears. This scenario happened to most of us but luckily, we manage to find our dogs within seconds or minutes, and it is all forgotten. But in these cases, the dogs ran away, for good.
Dogs usually are docile so anyone who has malevolent intentions will happily rob the dog and resell it within hours or days, especially if the dog is in huge demand (toy breeds, for example.)
Use Adequate Fencing
If you keep your dog(s) in your property’s yard, you must use adequate fencing to prevent your dog(s) from escaping their containment area when they are not undermanned supervision.
A good fence stops dogs from escaping and thieves from entering! (Credits: pinterest/CorinaDoleski)
It goes both ways, you don’t want your dog(s) to escape (heat season, for example) but adequate fencing also goes for dog breeders who have many animals in the same space. Thieves may be tempted to jump over your wall to nick your bitches and studs. It takes only a couple of minutes.
Dognapped! Frightening Facts of Pet Theft
AFEW SECONDS WAS ALL IT TOOK FOR CHIHUAHUA PUP LUPÉ TO SLIP OUT THE DOOR AND INTO THE hands of an opportunistic thief. She was at work in Vancouver with owner Emily Olmstead when the door was accidentally left ajar. Despite Emily's swift action to find her, Lupé's whereabouts are still a mystery.
"I miss her more than anything in this world and I don't think I could ever have a dog again," says a distraught Olmstead, who spent the end of last summer scouring the city streets and putting up posters during her heartbreaking search.
While Lupé was snatched in broad daylight, Husky Keymo was taken from his yard in Jacksonville, Florida, in the dead of night. Just after midnight in February, his owner Ella Jones returned to her home and let Keymo off the leash in the front yard. In the time it took her to get ready for bed, Keymo was gone. She noticed food on the sidewalk and believes he was lured away. In the days following his disappearance, she talked to neighbours, handed out posters to everyone she met, drove around nearby streets, and contacted local radio and TV stations. She also posted his profile on the Petfinder.com website and put up a reward for the much-missed puppy.
"A co-worker gave him to me from her litter and the first time I saw him, I loved him," says Jones, her voice shaking with emotion. "He was a companion, he was like my child and I just want him back home."
Emily and Ella, like a growing number of owners, have become victims of criminals who see companion animals as a quick and easy way to make a buck. There are no reliable figures for the number of dogs stolen in North America each year, as the police often don't distinguish between property theft and pet theft. However, the non-profit organization Last Chance for Animals based in Los Angeles estimates that two million pets are stolen every year, and PetLynx, a companion animal registry, estimates that one million animals go missing in Canada each year.
When Dorothy Pizzuti of Atlanta, Georgia, started the pet locator website Dogdetective.com in 1999 it was a site dedicated to lost and found dogs. Today it also features a dedicated section for stolen dogs.
"We've had a lot of reports from people about their dogs being stolen, so that's why I added that option about two years ago," Pizzuti say. "We average 250,000 visitors every month with 1,500 new members joining each month. About 10 percent of dogs reported as lost are reported stolen. It happens more than I thought it did."
With pedigree dogs costing hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars, it's no surprise that some dogs are stolen and sold on the cheap. Why go to a reputable dog breeder when you can get what you want at half the price? Some steal dogs to use as dog-fight prey, a few may end up in puppy mills for breeding, and others are taken for ransom. Earlier this year, a family from Glendale in Colorado paid $1,500 dollars to get back their Yorkshire Terrier after he was stolen from their car. But there are other reasons for stealing a dog, according to former CBS journalist Linda Fields who runs Findfido.com from her home in northern Pennsylvania.
"There are people who actually go around and look for dogs to steal and they are doing it for a number of reasons," says Fields. "One could be that they intend to resell the dogs to laboratories or secondary sources, which is totally illegal but it happens. There are also scammers out there that people need to be aware of. People will call up and say wire me this money and I will send you your dog back when in fact they have no intention of doing that or they may not even have your dog."
Rumours of "bunchers" stealing family dogs for sale to laboratories have been circulating for years and Last Chance for Animals provided concrete evidence of the practice when it launched an undercover investigation of the dog dealer, C. C Baird of Arkansas. Last summer, Baird, who had previously been fined for animal cruelty violations in 1997, pleaded guilty to a string of violations under the US Animal Welfare Act. His wife, Patsy, also entered a guilty plea and a number of associates suspected of stealing dogs are also under investigation. A documentary on the case called Dealing Dogs was shown on HBO in February.
While some police forces will be happy to file a report, it won't be priority number one down at the local station house. The best chance you have of recovering your four- legged friend is to become your own private detective, says Pizzuti.
"Immediately go to shelters and put up posters in your area," she urges. "Start off with a 3-mile radius. If, after three days, you don't have your dog back, go to a 10-mile radius. Wait five, ten days and if you don't have your dog back, go to a 50-mile radius. Just keep going out. Go up to a 100- mile radius because we've had dogs 100 miles from home in three days. Some people will give up after a couple of weeks but we've had people who have found their dogs a year later. So don't give up."
Real animal lovers can play their part by refusing to buy cut-price dogs without the right paperwork or adequate background checks.
"There is obviously a market out there and the problem is that people buy stolen dogs," says Olmstead. "I feel that if you can't afford to buy a dog, you should not buy a stolen dog. People need to be made aware of what goes on." ■
Yolanda Brooks is a freelance writer who recently relocated from London, England, to North Vancouver, BC, Canada. Hailing from the land of Crufts, she thought she lived among the world's biggest dog lovers but she now realizes that North Americans really are world leaders when it comes to canine worship.
How to Keep Your Dog Safe When Pet Theft Is on the Rise
In our daily lives, we take precautions to safeguard our most valuable possessions and protect them from being stolen. We lock our car doors, equip our homes with alarms, and create passwords to shield our personal information, yet few pet owners realize that protecting our dogs from potential theft is just as important.
Dognapping isn’t something any owner wants to think about, but it’s important to be aware and prepared. Statistics put the number of dogs stolen each year at around 2 million. In just a matter of seconds, you can become the victim of a criminal who sees your dog as a quick and easy way to make a buck.
Stolen Dog Laws
Although 92% of pet parents consider dogs members of their family 3 , most state laws don’t agree. You may have heard the term “dognapping,” but it’s misleading from a legal standpoint.
Kidnapping a person is a severe criminal offense. However, the law does not see it that way with kidnapped dogs. Why? A majority of states don’t even have specific stolen pet laws. Dogs, instead, are seen as personal property.
That’s why pet theft most often falls under a state’s general theft and larceny laws. In these states, stealing a pet isn’t distinguished in any way from taking a tv, jewelry, or other possessions.
States That Have Stolen Dog Laws
Only 15 states specifically address the theft of dogs in their criminal codes. These include:
- New Hampshire
- New York
- North Carolina
- Rhode Island
- West Virginia
Legal Penalties For Dog Theft
What are the charges for stealing a dog? Criminal charges and penalties vary widely by state, even in those with specific criminal codes for dog theft. Most states consider pet theft a misdemeanor, and the penalties include relatively small fines and little to no jail time.
California and Louisiana, impose different charges and penalties based on the monetary value of the stolen dog. A select few states have stepped up their laws with more severe charges and penalties.
Top 5 States With The Best Stolen Dog Laws
We’ve done extensive research into each state that has specific stolen dog statutes. Based on this analysis, here’s our list of the top five states with the most severe dog theft criminal statutes and penalties. 4
In Virginia, stealing a dog is a Class 5 felony, punishable by up to 10 years in jail, regardless of the dog’s monetary value.
Louisiana is one of the states that separate dog theft charges by your dog’s value, but their penalties are harsher than many other places.
If the stolen dog is worth more than $500, it can result in imprisonment for up to 10 years or a fine of up to $3,000 (or both) If the stolen dog is worth less than $500, you could still face a stiff fine and imprisonment but less so than for higher value pets.
If guilty of stealing a dog in Oklahoma, one faces a felony conviction with a punishment of confinement in the state prison for a term not less than six months or up to three years.
You can also face a fine equal to three times the value of the animal you stole (up to $500,000).
4. New York
In New York state, stealing a dog is a class E felony that could land you in jail for up to 6 months. In 2014, New York raised its fine for dog theft from $200 to $1,000, regardless of the dog’s monetary value.
If you’re found guilty of dog theft in Mississippi, it’s a felony punishable by a fine of not more than $ 500 or imprisonment in the county jail for up to six months (or both).