Dog Theft and What You Can Do To Prevent It

You may well recognise this beautiful little puppy.  Her name is Mika.  She really is quite famous, but sadly for all the wrong reasons.  Mika was stolen while out on a walk with her family, not more than 100 yards away from them.  It was an opportunistic crime and one that bought heartache to her family, especially her little human sister.  Mika was just 14 weeks old when she was cruelly taken from her family.

A couple of weeks before she was stolen, I met Mika and her family during an Early Puppy Guidance Visit.  It was clear this family loved their little puppy very much and wanted to do everything right by her from the beginning.  They booked Mika a place on my Puppy School course and were looking forward to their life with their new furry family companion.

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On Sunday 20 August 2017, Mika’s family were enjoying a walk before having a pub lunch.  The family were about to put Mika back on the lead as they approached the end of their walk, but unusually, Mika did not respond to their recall command and disappeared out of sight prior to returning to the pub car park.  The CCTV from the pub showed a white pickup truck enter the car park before two doors were opened and a man was seen grabbing little Mika before driving away again.

This family went through 3 days of turmoil, but during those 3 days, they and their friends and family launched a HUGE media campaign.  Mika’s DogLost poster went viral on Facebook and Twitter and her story reached thousands across the UK who were sharing and spreading the word to help get Mika back to her family.  This was a story that thankfully, ended with a happy ending as Mika was returned to the pub she was taken from, it is believed, after becoming ‘too hot to handle’.  This was an incredible result but one that sadly doesn’t happen to many dogs that are stolen. 

Mika’s story can be read here:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4816238/Heartbroken-family-cocker-spaniel-puppy-stolen.html

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4818920/Stolen-cocker-spaniel-puppy-Mika-REUNITED.html

Whilst pedigree dogs 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 (figures correct as at June 2017).

Unfortunately the number of dogs stolen each year is increasing.  There are two main reasons why people steal dogs and they are:

  • It is seen as an opportunity to make money as they can either resell the dog or use them for breeding.
  • Stolen dogs can be used in dog fighting rings to either fight or be used as bait. 

Whether dogs are being stolen for money or to become fighting dogs or bait, there are things that owners can do to reduce the risk of their dog being taken and if they are taken, increase the odds of the dog being found and reunited.

How Can You Keep Your Dog Safe?

  • Don’t think “it won’t happen to me”!  Thieves are either opportunistic or planners and will strike when you least expect it.  Mika’s family didn’t think it would happen to them, just like many other dog owners whose beloved pets have been stolen.  It does happen and sadly in the UK it is a crime that is fast on the increase - everywhere.
  • Don’t leave your dog tied up outside a shop.  It is very easy for a person to pretend your dog is theirs and take the dog without anyone batting an eyelid or thinking there is anything untoward.
  • Don’t leave your dog alone in the car, even for a few minutes.  Thieves can easily break into your car to steal your dog.
  • Make sure your dog is microchipped and that you keep your contact details up-to-date, especially if you move house or change your telephone number.  By law, dogs and puppies in the UK must be microchipped by eight weeks old.
  • Your dog should always wear a collar and ID tag with your name and address on it. This is a legal requirement when your dog is in a public place.  A mobile number is also a good idea, but NEVER put your dog’s name on the disc as this enables their captor to form a bond with them quicker.  Having an up-to-date and legal ID tag means there is a higher chance your dog can be reunited with you if they do go missing.
  • Neuter your pet as this can reduce the likelihood of roaming and make them less valuable to a thief who may want to breed from them.  Include a visible tag on your dogs collar that states your dog is microchipped and neutered so that thieves can see that your dog is of no use to them.
  • Take clear photographs of your dog from various angles, and update them regularly.  Make a note of any distinguishing features.
  • Have lots of photographs of yourself with your dog, to help you to prove ownership if needed.
  • Teach your dog a reliable recall for when you are out walking and never let them off the lead if you are unsure whether they will come back to you.  If in doubt, use a long line or training lead, especially if you are in an unfamiliar area where your dog may get lost more easily.
  • Be wary on walks of people who are acting suspiciously.  If in doubt, call your dog back and put them on the lead until that person passes and is no longer a possible threat, but still be vigilant.
  • Beware of strangers asking you questions about your dog.
  • Vary your walk times/locations and routes - some dogs are actually targeted and snatched during walks (as Mika’s family experienced).
  • Take care when choosing someone to care for your dog if you are going away from home or need a dog walker whilst you are at work.  Use a reputable company and choose someone who has qualifications and experience.  Check references for people who provide dog walking or day care services.
  • Check your garden to make sure it is safe and secure.  If you have a gate, fit it with a lock and a bell so you hear it if anyone opens it.
  • Keep your dog in view whilst they are in the garden, don’t just leave them outside unsupervised.
  • Thieves can break into your home to steal a dog so have a burglar alarm and keep your dogs away from windows while you are away.
  • If you breed puppies for sale, take great care when inviting people in to view them; ideally have someone else present and limit the numbers of people you allow in at a time.  Show the puppies in one secure area.

What To Do If Your Dog Is Stolen

If the worst does happen it is important to act quickly and follow the steps below:

  • Check your home and local area thoroughly
  • Report the theft to your local council’s dog warden and those in all other neighbouring local authorities
  • Make sure local vets are aware in case someone takes your dog in for treatment
  • Call your local RSPCA branch and other animal welfare organisations to see if your pet has been handed in and send them posters of your dog to display
  • Register them with a company such as Petslocated, Doglost or the National Pets Register
  • Talk to your neighbours, postman, milkman etc, as they may have seen your dog or observed something suspicious at the time they went missing
  • Visit places where dog walkers go such as local parks and public places and talk to people.  Ask them to keep an eye open for your dog
  • If you believe your pet has been stolen, report it to the police and insist it is recorded as a theft and not a lost animal.  Ask for a crime reference number
  • Call your microchip company so they can flag your pet as missing/stolen - this will also alert them to anyone trying to re-register the same microchip number
  • Make posters and display them in areas local to your home and also in relevant places such as vets, local parks etc. The poster should include a clear photograph and details of the circumstances.
  • Offer a reward, obviously the higher the better – this may entice the thief to return the dog to you rather than sell them on.
  • Investigate whether there is any CCTV footage around the area that your dog was taken.
  • Report the loss/theft on as many missing animals websites/social media sites as possible – there is no single national missing animals database, so you will have to place the same information on all of them to ensure a widespread appeal
  • Be on the lookout for sites or places where the thieves may attempt to sell your dog such as internet sites, social media sites and pet shops or vet notice boards and notify the police immediately if you do come across an advert for your dog.
  • Get a social media campaign going STRAIGHT AWAY (see below).

Getting word of mouth out about your stolen dog straight away is key.  Mika’s family worked tirelessly with a social media campaign and they were lucky enough to get coverage on radio and in the local and national press too.  Social networking sites allow information to travel extremely quickly and within a matter of hours your entire area (and beyond) can be on alert looking for your dog.  Remember, once a dog is stolen, they can travel great distances and social media is a great way to get your puppy known widely, very quickly. 

Support For Those Who Have Experienced Dog Theft

Losing a pet as a result of theft is traumatic and heartbreaking.  The Blue Cross can offer support to you through their National Pet Bereavement Support Service.  You can contact them on 0800 096 6606 (8:30am – 8:30pm) or by email on pbssmail@bluecross.org.uk.

Should I Let My Puppy/Dog Off Lead Now?

Some of my clients who have followed Mika’s story are quite understandably wondering if they should let their puppy or dog off lead now.  What happened to Mika was an opportunistic crime and whilst it does happen and it is important to be vigilant when out walking your furry companions, their freedom and ability to enjoy a walk off lead is just as important.  Allowing your puppy/dog freedom to smell, play and gain that all important exercise and mental stimulation is what makes a walk enjoyable for them. 

However, in order to let your dog off lead, you do need an effective recall.  You need to be able to call your dog away from all types of situations and your dog needs to want to come to you, not just because you are going to give them a treat but because they want to be with you!

If you are worried about your puppy/dogs recall, you may want to consider a 121 recall session with Amanda who will be happy to come on a walk with you and give you lots of hints and tips on how you can improve your dog’s recall and keep them safe whilst on walks.

Finally, I would like to dedicate this blog to EVERYONE who helped return Mika to her family.  Whatever contribution you made and however much time you dedicated to her family’s campaign – without you, Mika would not be home.  THANK YOU for contributing to Mika’s safe return to her family!

References:

https://www.bluecross.org.uk/pet-advice/protect-your-dog-against-theft

https://www.pets4homes.co.uk/pet-advice/dog-thieves-being-one-step-ahead.html

https://www.rspca.org.uk/whatwedo/latest/details/-/articleName/2017_03_14_Dog_Theft_Awareness_Day

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