Distressing for both parent and pet, dog theft, also known as dognapping, is on the rise in the US, UK and elsewhere. In fact, some estimates say that dog thefts have increased by 250% since the COVID-19 pandemic began in early 20201. If you’re staying home alone with your dog, it’s unlikely that you’ll face dog theft – but it can happen anywhere. From your backyard, to Beverly Hills, to a remote forest in Germany. Often times, dog thieves don’t have much to lose; with the penalties for stealing a dog minimal in many areas. You on the other hand, might have your whole world in those four paws and curious nose. So let’s talk about dog theft: recent dognapping incidences that made headlines, ways to protect against dognapping, and lastly, what to do if your dog has been stolen.
Table of contents
- What is dognapping?
- How common is dognapping?
- What types of dogs are stolen?
- What do dognappers do with the dogs?
- Is dognapping a federal crime?
- How to keep your dog safe from dognappers
- Get your dog microchipped
- Proof of ownership
- Keep ID tags up to date
- Use a GPS tracker on your dog’s collar at all times.
- Kathy the Beagle: kidnapped and saved thanks to her Tractive GPS
- Neuter your dog
- Don’t leave your dog alone in a car or at a storefront
- Don’t leave your dog unattended in the backyard
- Choose dog-walkers or dog-sitters carefully
- Keep your dog on a leash when out walking
- Install a doggie camera
- Think twice before posting photos of your dog on social media
- Ensure proper training
- Stay informed
- What to do if your pet goes missing
- Check your home and neighborhood thoroughly
- Signs that your dog may have been stolen
- Immediately report a dognapping to the police
- Call the microchip database
- Contact local shelters and lost-dog or stolen-dog sites
- Distribute flyers
- Plan ahead and keep your pet safe
What is dognapping?
Dognapping is the term used to describe the theft of a dog. It is also referred to by its synonyms, pet kidnapping or dog flipping. Dogs can be stolen from anywhere – your backyard, your home, your car, or anywhere you leave your dog unattended.
Sometimes, houses are broken into just to snatch a dog. Occasionally, armed robbers attack dog owners on the street and make off with the pooch. Dog thieves have even been known to develop elaborate scams to take your pup; like these two women who pretended to be an Animal Cruelty Task Force in Los Angeles. Perpetrators of dog theft may use violence, or tactics such as distraction or intimidation.
If the dog thief is successful, for the pet parent, more than just the value of the dog is lost: a piece of your heart and family is stolen.
How common is dognapping?
During the Coronavirus pandemic, thousands of people decided to get a dog as a furry companion while they were stuck at home. The huge demand for cute puppies soon exceeded supply, creating a wide-open market for stolen dogs.
In the United Kingdom and United States, for example, reports of dognapping have surged. Some rural areas of the UK are the worst areas for dog theft. In these places, dognapping has doubled or tripled from pre-pandemic levels, according to police reports.
Have you been seeing more dognapping stories in the news? Experts warn that the media attention given to dognapping may be fueling the rise in some places. High-profile cases, such as the 2021 theft of singer Lady Gaga’s French bulldogs by two gunmen in Los Angeles, could inspire future dognappers to try their hand at pet theft. (Thanks to the tremendous amount of publicity surrounding the case, Lady Gaga’s pups were found safe two days after the theft, although the dogs’ handler was seriously injured.)
The problem of dognapping is more widespread than you might think. About two million dogs are victims of theft each year in the United States. Sadly, only about 10% of these stolen dogs are reunited with their families.
What types of dogs are stolen?
Any dog is at risk for dognapping, but pedigreed and purebred dogs top the list of dognapping targets. These popular and expensive breeds may sell for more than $2,000, meaning that dognappers can make a quick profit by stealing and selling these dogs. The exception on this list is the pit bull, which may be sold as an illegal fighting dog. Here is a list of the most commonly stolen dog breeds:
- Yorkshire Terrier
- Boston Terrier
- French Bulldog
- American Pit Bull Terrier
- Jack Russell Terrier
- Staffordshire Bull Terrier
Other pricey dog breeds, including Chow Chows, Rottweilers, and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels may also be targeted for dognapping because they can be sold for high prices.
Small dogs are obviously easier to steal than large dogs. They can be quickly snatched, hidden in a bag or box, and carried away. Large dogs may be tougher to capture because of their size and strength, but the potential profit to be made from selling these dogs makes it worth the risk for a dognapper.
What do dognappers do with the dogs?
Dogs are not usually stolen because the thief wants the dog as a pet. Instead, dogs are often taken to be “flipped,” meaning that the dognapper sells the dog as soon as possible after stealing it. Dognapping can be lucrative for the thief: some dog breeds sell for thousands of dollars. Unfortunately, there seems to be a rise in occupationalist dog thieves – people who steal dogs for a living.
It’s not hard to sell a stolen dog. Just check the internet, and you’ll see dogs for sale everywhere. There’s no way to be certain that a dog being advertised for sale isn’t someone’s stolen pet. In fact, experts say that many online ads for dogs that need to be “re-homed” are scams by dognappers.
Dog thieves use several other tactics besides outright theft to obtain a dog. They may respond to a “found pet” notice placed by a concerned animal-lover who finds a dog roaming their neighborhood. The dognapper poses as the pet’s owner and picks up the dog from the helpful neighbor, only to turn around and sell the dog. Sometimes, dognappers adopt a pet from a shelter – not with the intention of providing a loving home, but with plans to sell the pup for a profit.
Petnappers know that dogs are viewed as beloved family members by most pet owners, so they prey upon that vulnerability. These thieves know that owners may be desperate to get their dog back and may offer a large reward. Some thieves may steal a dog and later return the same pup to the owner and claim the reward.