The Scary Truth about Dog Theft in the UK
It’s not something any of us want to think about, ‘what would happen if my dog was stolen?’. However, the sad truth of the matter is that more and more dogs are being taken from their homes, gardens and on walks, every day. Snatched away from their loving owners, the lucky ones may simply be sold to a new family, but often a far worse fate awaits them. Baiting in dog fights, or bred time and time again in puppy farms. It’s a terrifying thought, but there are precautions we can take as dog owners to keep them safe and sound.
The Rise of Dog Theft
No matter which way you look at it, dog napping is on the rise. In 2014, incidents of stolen dogs were 20% higher than the previous year, but charity DogLost believes that the true number may be as much as three times the recorded number of thefts. Only 29% of stolen dogs are recovered and reunited with their owners, which leaves an enormous amount of dogs that simply vanish, left to a fate the owner will never know.
The worst area in the country for cases of dog stealing is Kent, with two dogs being stolen every single week. It is thought that dogs are taken so often here because it is close to the Channel Tunnel, meaning that stolen dogs can be easily smuggled out of the country and sold to overseas puppy farms or dog fighters.
There are now rings of organised gangs who make it their job to steal and sell valuable dogs. Certainly, dog stealing is becoming a criminal profession, with the thieves making thousands of pounds and a low chance of ever being caught. In fact, only 5% of dog thefts lead to prosecution, making it a relatively low risk crime for unscrupulous characters. This worrying statistic also makes dog thieves incredibly bold and gives them the confidence to take dogs who are out on walks, or jump into back gardens and steal them while their owners are just steps away. Others will keep houses under surveillance and mark them with paint or chalk to highlight them as dog owners to their gang members. There have even been incidents of ‘dog muggings’ where owners have been threatened with weapons unless they pass their dog over.
Dogs have huge financial worth these days, and criminals are clued in to that. However, they also know that to their owners there is no sum of money greater than the love they have for their dogs. This means that sometimes dogs are held to ransom for huge amounts of money. Some will steal a dog and wait for the owner to offer a reward for finding their missing dog before returning it and taking the cash. Others will actively contact owners and demand money and give threats of violence or death towards the dog.
Among the most commonly stolen dog breeds are Jack Russell Terriers, Yorkshire Terriers, Pugs and Chihuahuas, but don’t be fooled into thinking that only small dogs are at risk of dognapping. Staffordshire Bull Terriers are stolen more than any other breed of dog, and are most likely used as bait dogs in fights. Also high on the list of stolen dogs are German Shepherds – large, protective and strong, you may not think they would be a target, but they are. Labradors are also frequently stolen, perhaps due to their friendly and trusting nature, making them an easier steal.
Where are Dogs Stolen?
Dogs can be taken anywhere, depending on how much confidence the thief has. However, there are a few places where dogs are stolen more than others:
- Outside shops
- On off lead walks
- From gardens at home
- From the street when they are already missing
10 Steps to Keep your Dog Safe
With dognapping on the rise, and the confidence of the thieves growing by the day, it is more important than ever to make sure that our dogs are safe and secure. Thankfully, there are lots of ways to do this and prevent dog theft.
- Keep your garden secure. I’m talking tall fences, locked gates and security lights. If your garden is accessible, do everything you can to make sure nobody can just walk in or even lean over a fence and grab a poor defenseless pup. Don’t leave your dog alone in the garden without access to the house, and without being able to see and hear your dog at all times. If you have a gate, attach a bell to it so you can hear it opening and closing.
- Keep a diligent eye on your dog on walks. If you let your dog off lead then make sure he or she is in sight at all times. For late night and winter walks, get a light up collar so that you can see their movements even in the darker light. Your path might be lit up, but chances are those shrubs and bushes your dog likes to sniff around in will be pitch black. Train a good recall, to call your dogs back to you the moment that you lose sight of them. If your dog just can’t be trusted to come back to you, then get an extending lead. If you use a dog walker, make sure they know these rules and follow them.
- Carefully vet dog professionals. Whether your dog is spending time with a groomer, pet sitter, kennel or dog walker make sure you vet them in person. Meet pet sitters in their homes, get references, go on a walk with the dog walker, ask them lots of questions. You want to be sure that you can fully trust this person with your dog.
- Beware of interested strangers. I’ve had people come up to me in the park asking questions about myself and my dog, and even ask to take a photograph of him. The answer is always a no (and usually a question as to why they want a picture of him). Don’t share information about your dog with people you don’t know, they could well be doing some research to find out about you, your habits and how easy your dog would be to steal. A red flag is anyone asking you how much you paid for your dog, when and where you walk him, if you live locally, or if he is friendly with strangers.
- Make sure your dog is microchipped. This will soon be compulsory by law. If your dog moes missing then it will give it a better chance of being reunited quickly, and will also man that should a dog be stolen and recovered, authorities, vets and rescue centres will be able to race the dog back to you.
- Add an ID tag to your dog’s collar. Engrave it with your details in case he goes missing, but refrain from adding your dog’s name to it as it allows dog thieves to use it in order to lure him or her.
- Don’t leave dogs tied up outside shops. It makes them an easy target as not only have they been left unsupervised they are already on a lead and therefore incredibly easy to walk away with, without making any fuss.
- Don’t leave a dog in a car. Even if it’s just for a few minutes, dogs in cars are targets for dog thieves. It only take a few seconds to break a window and take a dog.
- Vary your routine. Don’t make it easy for thieves to track your dog’s movements. Mix up your routine by going for walks at different times, using different routes and going to a variety of places. It is not unusual for thieves to target dogs and monitor their owners so that they can snatch them from their owners at a planned time and place.
- Keep up to date, clear photographs of your dog. Take them regularly and from a number of angles. Should the worst happen and your dog goes missing, you will be prepared.
What to do if your Dog is Stolen
If your pet is stolen then you must act very quickly. Let your local dog warden know, as well as all dog warden’s in all neighbouring local authorities. Create a page on DogLost and as many missing dog websites, facebook groups and twitter profiles as possible, this will alert people in your area so that they can keep an eye out for your dog. Make posters and put them up around your neighbourhood, where you take your dog for walk, and in places such a veterinary offices and pet stores – use a clear image and details of where, when and how the incident took place. It is important to contact vets offices as the dog may be brought in for treatment by a new owner. Contact dog walkers and ask them to keep a look out for your dog, and spread the word about your missing pet. You should also reach out to shelters and rescue centres, give them some posters to put up and a photograph of your dog incase someone brings it in. If your dog is microchipped, contact the microchip database so that you will be alerted if anyone tries to re-register the chip number with new ownership details. This article is a great example of why you should microchip your dog.
If you believe that your dog has been stolen, then contact the police. Often, incidences of dog theft go unrecorded because the police are not always convinced that the dog has been stolen and instead choose to believe that the dog has gone missing. Be firm, and insist that it is recorded as a theft.
Let’s Make it Harder for Dog Thieves
Dog theft is an ugly, cruel and heartbreaking crime. I for one, will be giving Bruce extra cuddles today. If we are diligent and aware of how dog thieves work, we can minimise the growing rate of dog thefts in the UK. So, now I have a favour to ask you. Please share this post – email it to a family member, post it on twitter or facebook, link to it from a blog post, read it out to your best friend. By raising awareness of the prevalence of dog theft we can stop the epidemic of dognapping that is occurring in the UK. Thank you.
Please also consider supporting DogLost, a service which works hard to reunite lost and stolen dogs with their owners. The site was set up by Jayne Hayes after her French Bulldog, Henry, was stolen and she was left horrified by how little help and support there was for owners with missing and stolen dogs. The site is run by volunteers and now helps reunite over 100 lost dogs and their owners every single week.