It’s every dog owner’s worst nightmare – finding out that their beloved pet has gone missing.
What can make this ordeal even worse is discovering that a dog has been stolen by professional thieves. Sadly this heartrending crime is very much on the increase, leaving thousands of dog owners bereft as a much-loved family member is snatched from under their noses.
On the rise
Figures show that dog theft is growing by about 15 per cent every year, and is fast replacing metal theft as the opportunistic crime of choice.
Stolen dogs are sometimes held for ransom while others are sold on, often several times, at around £100 per sale. A few dogs may be lucky enough to end up in a decent home, but many will be dumped.
Stories of heartbreak abound. One pet owner put up a £1,000 reward after his two Chihuahua puppies were stolen from his car in London. The man spoke for many when he said: ‘We are totally saddened. It's not like a material loss - this is a living creature that you have an emotional attachment to.’
Dog Theft Action’s Facebook page tells many stories of loss. In one, a woman directly addresses the thief who took her dogs: ‘Fifteen weeks ago today you stole our three Springer Spaniels. You also stole a piece of our hearts and caused immense upset to our family.’
Owners report dogs stolen from kennels and outhouses, while others are taken as they are being walked, or in specifically-targeted burglaries.
Working dogs such as Labradors are the most popular targets, though the biggest rise has been in the theft of cocker spaniels. Some animals are stolen to order by organised gangs while others are sold, often over the internet, to buyers in other parts of Britain.
Many are stolen for breeding, leaving dog owners and their families traumatised by loss and fearful for the uncertain fate of their pet.
There are some happy endings, as actress Sheridan Smith discovered after her Shar Pei, Enid, was stolen from her home in north London. Enid was returned following public appeals.
The cookery writer Annabel Karmel paid a £750 ransom after her Samoyed was stolen from a van belonging to her dog walker, along with 10 other animals. Annabel’s dog was returned to her 10 days later after a woman rang her to demand a ransom.
But for thousands more people, the outcome is not a happy one. Dog Lost, a non-profit organisation aiming to reunite owners with missing pets, received reports of more than 12,000 missing dogs in 2014, of which 4,000 are believed to have been stolen.
Pets are stolen from kennels in back gardens, and even snatched from the hands of people out walking them. In one incident, a five-year-old male Springer Spaniel worth £500 was stolen by burglars who had clearly been keeping a house under surveillance.
Thankfully the dog was re-united with its owner several months later, when it was taken to a vet who discovered its microchip.
The Government is introducing compulsory micro-chipping for all dogs from April 2016 to help reunite owners with lost or stolen pets. But while this initiative is welcomed by everyone concerned about the increasing number of dog thefts in this country, there are other important measures that pet owners need to be aware of…
Make sure it never happens to your dog
- Have your dog micro-chipped. This won’t stop it from being stolen, but it will increase your chances of getting your pet back.
- Keep a close eye on your dog: don’t even leave it out in the garden alone or unattended.
- Never leave your dog tied up outside a shop.
- Don’t leave your dog alone in the car.
- Make sure gates and fencing are safe and secure. Some thieves use their own dogs to lure other dogs out of a garden and into a waiting vehicle.
Read our tips for dog-proofing your home and garden
What to do if you think your dog has been stolen
- Contact the police immediately and make sure the crime is logged by them as dog theft and not just a lost dog. Ask for a crime reference number.
- Doglost.co.uk is a national community of thousands of dog owners and volunteers helping to reunite lost dogs with their owners. Their helpline is 0844 800 3220, and they can advise on what to do to maximise your chances of finding your dog.
- Report the theft to your Local Authority’s Dog Warden service.
- If your dog is micro-chipped, report it to one of the five databases which are: Petlog, Anibase, PETtrac, PetProtect and SmartChip.
- Inform your vet and as many local practices as you can.
- Check with neighbours, postal workers, shops, post offices, and other businesses.
- Hand out flyers/posters – someone may have seen something.
- Approach local media – newspapers, radio stations and television could help to publicise your missing dog.
- Keep safe receipts, micro-chip documents, photographs and anything that proves your dog belongs to you.
- Register your dog with as many missing pet websites as possible, including Animal Search UK, UK National Missing Pet Register and Lost Dogs UK.
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