Pet theft – how to protect your best furry friends

It’s every pet owner’s worst nightmare and not something any animal lover wants to dwell on, but the fact is that pandemic pet theft is on the rise – particularly incidences of dog theft. However, there are lots of practical steps you can take to protect your precious pet animals. Pets are stolen for a number of reasons by unscrupulous
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20th April 2021

It’s every pet owner’s worst nightmare and not something any animal lover wants to dwell on, but the fact is that pandemic pet theft is on the rise – particularly incidences of dog theft. However, there are lots of practical steps you can take to protect your precious pet animals.

Pets are stolen for a number of reasons by unscrupulous individuals seeking financial gain who have no regard for the health or welfare of the animals they steal. And, while Cocker Spaniels and Springer Spaniels are two of the most commonly stolen breeds, all pets – including mixed breed dogs, cats, rabbits and ferrets –  have a value and can still be at risk. With more dogs being stolen than ever, awareness and prevention are key.

Animal charity Blue Cross reveals: “Whilst pedigree pets are at the greatest risk due to the cost of purchasing pedigree puppies, non-pedigree dogs can also be at risk as thieves wait for a reward to be offered. According to the Missing Pets Bureau as many as 38% of all animals reported lost have actually been stolen and as many as 60% of these are tragically never recovered. In spite of these startling figures, many dogs are still left tied up outside shops, or in unattended vehicles where they are easily stolen. Once stolen, a dog can be moved many miles in a short space of time, so prevention is vital.”

Sadly, dog thieves are increasing their activity – it’s estimated that dog thefts have risen by 250% nationwide following increased demand during the pandemic. BBC News recently reported on a survey about dog theft awareness, organised by Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne, which almost 125,000 people responded to. Key findings included:

  • 97% of respondents said dog theft was a serious problem
    22% knew someone whose dog had been stolen in the last year
  • 78% of people said they had grown more fearful of taking their dog for a walk during the day
  • 83% had grown more fearful of taking their dog for a walk at night

Holly Morgan, 26, from Nottingham, had her dog stolen in August 2019, which she said was "the worst, stressful and most heart-breaking situation" she had ever been through.

She was eventually reunited with her Cocker Spaniel Bud, who was found 130 miles away after 18 days.

A Blue Cross survey revealed pet owners believe dogs, cats and rabbits are also the targets of theft because of organised criminal gangs (70%), 94% of owners said they believe criminals are specifically targeting homes in order to steal pets, and almost a third think thieves steal pets to claim reward money or use for ransom.

Where are pets being stolen from?

According to dog theft statistics that Blue Cross has gathered from police forces around the country, the vast majority of dogs are stolen from inside the home, with many also being taken from gardens, and a few hundred being taken in a public area such as in the street.

Dogs Trust states: “Incidences of dog theft have been increasing over the past few years, with the home and garden being the top locations for pet theft. We are urging dog owners to be vigilant and not leave their dogs unattended in public areas, as well as considering a number of small changes they can make to help protect their pet. Our dogs play such a huge part in our lives and it is important for us to offer them the same care and protection given to all family members.”

The charity has launched a campaign, which features three steps to follow to reduce the risk of theft and offer the best possible chance of being reunited with your pet should they go missing.

SAFE – Secure your property and garden

SPOTTABLE – Keep them in sight and trained to return

SEARCHABLE – Know what steps to take if they go missing

There’s also a Dogs Trust downloadable factsheet with lots of useful advice and a poster, which you can download and display to help raise awareness of keeping dogs safe in your area. There are also tips for those looking to raise awareness about a stolen pet on social media.

Read 8 ways to prevent your dog from being stolen >>

Check your settings on social media to stop thieves targeting your pet

Reported in The Guardian, Dog Lost, a UK charity that helps victims of dog theft, recorded a 170% increase in pet theft, from 172 dogs in 2019 to 465 dogs in 2020. “The advice I would give from a police perspective is be aware of social media,” said Detective Superintendent Neil Austin from the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s acquisitive crime unit. “People share pictures of their dogs and puppies on social media and very often haven’t got their privacy settings set correctly, and they use tags which obviously show where you live, which is something to be aware of.”

The RSPCA has some top tips to help prevent your pet from being stolen or becoming a target

  • Never leave your dog outside a shop on his or her own or in a car unattended
  • Train your dog to come back when called and never let them off the lead if you're not sure they'll come back to you. If in doubt, use a long-line lead, especially if you're in an unfamiliar area where your dog may get lost more easily
  • Check your garden to make sure it's secure and, if you have a gate, then fit it with a lock. Fit a bell to the gate so you hear if anyone opens it
  • Don't leave your dog unsupervised in the garden, or at least keep them in view

What to do if your pet goes missing

  • The best way of making sure you can be reunited with your dog if he or she becomes lost or stolen is to have them microchipped. It's now a legal requirement to have your dog microchipped, but the key thing as well is that you must also keep your contact details up to date on the database, so if you move home or change phone number
  • Keep recent photographs of your pet and make a note of any distinguishing features. Also keep photos of you with your pet
  • Take care when choosing someone to care for your dog if you're going away from home or need a dog walker while you go to work. Use a reputable company or boarding kennels and check references for people who provide dog or house-sitting services
  • Neuter your pet as this can reduce the likelihood of roaming
  • When they're in a public place, every dog must wear a collar with the name and address of their owner engraved on it, or on a plate or tag attached to it. This will help you find your dog if they go missing. We also recommend including your mobile phone number on any ID as this can help reunite you with your pet quickly should he or she ever get lost or stolen. Cat collars should be quick release to prevent injury

What to do if your pet is stolen

If the worst does happen and your pet does go missing or you think he or she has been stolen, there are some steps you can take to have the best chance of being reunited with them.

  • Check your home and local area thoroughly
  • Report it to the police as a theft as soon as possible. That way they can pick up any trends if it's happening more frequently in a certain area
  • Phone the microchip database that your pet is registered with and report them as missing, so that if anyone tries to re-register the chip number, you’ll be informed
  • Report it to your local dog warden, your local vets, animal hospitals and rehoming centres. Register your pet on missing pet websites such as Pets Located, Dog Lost or the National Pet Register
  • Make posters and display them in local areas such as parks and vet surgeries. The poster should include a clear photograph and details of the circumstances
  • Social media such as Facebook can also be really useful for spreading the word in the local area so that people can keep an eye out for missing animals or anyone acting suspiciously

Blue Cross advises: “Theft is a criminal offence and should be reported to your local police force as soon as possible. Make sure you give the police as much information about your pet’s physical appearance as possible, including photos, and details about what happened when your pet was stolen. If your pet is microchipped, ask the police officer to take a note of the microchip number. If you or anyone witnessed your pet being stolen, give the police a clear description of the thief and any details about vehicles that were used. Ask the police for a crime reference number when you report your pet as stolen. This makes sure the theft is logged on the system as a crime, rather than just an incident, and acts as a reference number that you can follow up on.”

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