Dog theft may be in the news, but it is nothing new – it featured 1934 Mickey Mouse short “Dognapper” and in the 1947 Poirot story “The Nemean Lion”. But as cartoon mice and Belgian detectives are thin on the ground in the 21st Century, dog owners do need to be on their guard.
So, what do you need to do to keep your dog safe?
First, don’t panic or overly fret. About 62% of missing pets are simply lost. Not that there’s anything simple about a lost dog or that heart wrenching sudden feeling of emptiness it brings. But the very same measures you’d take to help prevent stop your dog getting lost (and help it be found) will help protect them against theft.
All common sense, all things you already know, but like a fire drill – repetition saves lives:
- Make sure your dog is chipped – it’s the law and good common sense
- Make sure the chip is registered – otherwise it is like a smoke alarm without a battery!
- Make sure your dog is registered with a local vet
- Check that your dog always wears a collar with tags…
- ….and that any tag contact details are up to date
- Use a mobile number on the tags obfuscate your address AND avoid the need to name your pet
- Always have some up to date photos (face, profile & portrait) of your dog handy– if they’ve just been to the groomers to get their hair done, they are going to look different…
- Someone who finds your dog may be wary of just handing them to back to the first person to come looking – so have lots of pictures of you and the dog together, to demonstrate ownership
Always err on the side of caution. A few tiny changes to everyday habits can make your dog a whole lot safer.
- Regularly ensure the garden is safe and the dog can’t escape – for example, do a quick check after a storm, as fence panels may have shifted
- Only let the dog loose in the garden if there is someone out there too – or the whole garden can be seen from a window and there is someone watching
- Fit a lock, or at least a bell, to the back gate, so you can control or be alerted to people entering
- Don’t post pictures of the dog AND where you live on the same social media account – no point in advertising!
- Be wary of strangers on your walks. You’ll know the regular crowd, just be don’t be too forthcoming the first time you meet someone.
- Only ever entrust your dog to a dog walker you are 100% sure is safe or have used before
- Only ever put your dog into a kennel you’re certain will be there when you get back!
- Never leave your dog alone in the car – even for a few seconds. They’re vulnerable to theft and then there’s the whole temperature thing…
- Never just tie your dog up outside a shop. It may be a small village shop, on a quiet country lane… but don’t leave them unattended
- If you’re leaving your dog with a friend or relative while you go away – hammer home this safety-first message
It is not paranoia if they are after you
Listen to other dog walkers and keep an eye on what the local dog owning Facebook group are saying. If they report suspicious activity or people, assume they’re right. Better to take unnecessary precautions, than fail to prepare. When on high alert:
- Be especially wary of strangers asking about your dog or those of other walkers
- Only let your dog off the lead when you’re the only person in sight
- If you’ve been unsettled by someone or something on a walk – take a different route or go at a different time the next day
- Dog theft doesn’t just happen to ‘posh dogs’. Crossbreeds and good old fashion Heinz 57s are vulnerable too. Thieves can demand a ransom or wait for a reward to be offered
Worst case scenario
If your dog goes missing or is stolen – don’t delay. Act immediately.
- Report their loss to the local dog warden – they handle lost dogs
- Report it to your vet and other local surgeries – in case they turn up with an injury
- Report their loss to the microchip company – in case someone tries to amend the registration
- If you think your dog’s been stolen, report it to the police. Insist they issue Crime Reference Number
- Post your story on ALL your local social media sites. Dog groups, PTA feeds, football team WhatsApps… over-post but get the news out
- Make good, old fashioned “lost dog” posters and put them everywhere. They really, really work
- Prowl your regular dog walk routes and keep looking. You never know
- Drop off posters at your local dog shelter, rescue centres and other community message boards (eg supermarket)
- And finally, because dog theft doesn’t have to be a local crime, post full details on as many missing animal websites as you can find
One missing dog agency estimates that 38% of all lost dogs are the result of theft and that some 60% of these are never recovered. A frankly horrible statistic. While the steps above cannot guarantee your dog’s security, having a plan makes them easier to find when lost and the lives of thieves more difficult. And frankly, they deserve it!
If in doubt contact your veterinary practice
And always keep your vet's phone number handy - just in case!