How to keep your dog safe from thieves
Just imagine the scene: you’ve gone to a local pet shop to get some more dog food and you’ve taken your dog along for a bit of socialisation. After you’ve paid, you take your faithful friend back to the car, shut him in, and then go back for your products. However, when you return, the car boot window is smashed and your dog has gone.
An increasing problem
It’s a dog owner’s worst nightmare, and unfortunately dog theft is now a major problem in the UK. Reports suggest that dog thefts have increased by over 20% in the last two years and that over 5,000 dogs have been reported stolen since 2013.
Why do thieves steal dogs?
Most dog thefts can be broken down into one of two types. Firstly, there is the specific targeting of pedigree dogs, either for profit or for breeding. With pedigrees being worth an average of £1,000, there are organised gangs stealing such dogs in order to gain a large ransom from devoted owners or to sell them on the black market — where prices can be around half the price of a dog from a legitimate breeder. Increasingly, dogs are also being stolen for use on puppy farms — not just in this country, but abroad too. The RSPCA estimates that 50,000 farmed puppies are imported every year into the UK from Ireland, and that requires a significant number of bitches to be constantly producing litters. Breeds most at risk from these kinds of thefts are toy, working, and designer breeds.
The second most common reason for dog theft is more sinister and evil — for use as bait dogs in fighting rings. These dogs are used for fighting dogs to practise on and can be any breed.
How thieves operate
There are several occasions that might form part of your everyday routine which can give thieves the perfect opportunity to take your dog. The scene mentioned at the start is a prime example, with some small gangs known to be loitering around pet stores in the south of England ready to pounce. Sometimes owners leave dogs in the car when they go into a shop, but a partially opened window can be forced down or smashed and a dog snatched in less than a minute. And of course, many people walk their dogs to their local newsagent, tying them up outside while they shop — another perfect opportunity for thieves.
The main culprits of dog thefts, however, are not the opportunists but the organised gangs — and they are capable of highly planned operations to get the dogs they want. Increasingly, dogs are being taken from back gardens, where thieves could have been watching the house for weeks establishing a pattern of movements. People who take their dogs out for a walk at the same time every day and let their dogs out in the back garden at the same time every day are particularly at risk.
The dangers are not just in towns — more and more dog owners are finding threats when out and about in the countryside, particularly in areas where dogs are able to run free.
Protect your pet
There’s a lot you can do to protect your pets from being taken, ranging from changing routines to new gear and kit. The easiest thing is to minimise the opportunities for your dog be taken. For example, leaving your dog tied up outside a shop is a very easy opportunity for a thief. You wouldn’t leave a child outside a shop for 10 minutes, so why would you leave your dog?
As mentioned, most dog thieves are organised gangs, and they will be watching for any patterns in your behaviour they can exploit. If you regularly take your dogs out at the same time every day, and then put them into the back garden afterwards, perhaps think of varying the routine so anyone watching would find it more difficult to plan a raid. Higher fences also help deter anyone trying to lift your dog over the fence but high fences are not much good if any gates are unlocked.
Another common way dogs are taken is right from the front door. This is how it works: a gang will monitor a house with perhaps three or four dogs and they will strike when there’s only one person in the house. Two or three of the gang will knock on the front door, and as the dog owner is distracted by their dogs rushing to the door, one of the gang grabs a dog and they race off. To prevent this from happening, keep your dogs away when answering the door.
To minimise the risk of your dog being taken when in the car, a lockable dog cage is a great idea. This means even if a window is prised open or smashed, the thieves can’t get to your dog.
When out on a walk, be aware of where your dog is as much as possible. Caroline Kisko, secretary of the Kennel Club, highlighted the importance of training in keeping your dog safe.
She said: “Keeping your dog under proper control and making sure you can see him when out and about on walks, as well as ensuring the dog is properly trained and will return to you when called, is important.”
Get him chipped
If your dog is stolen, you’ve got a better chance of him being returned if you’ve had him microchipped — but it is important to ensure that the details are kept up to date. Microchipping was made compulsory in April 2016, and keeping the details up to date are a part of the legal requirement.
Surely, by now technology should have come to our aid? After all, if your iPhone or Android is stolen, you can locate it on the web using the phone’s in-built GPS receiver — providing you’ve previously switched it on. Could technology like that be made for dogs? Well, it is already available. You can now buy special collars which have a GPS receiver built-in, and which allow you to locate your dog using a smartphone app or on the web. But, currently, these have several big drawbacks. The cost of them is prohibitive for most dog owners; one firm charges £300 for the first year’s rental of a collar and then £80 each year after.
Secondly, the battery life of the unit only lasts around five days, after which you’ll no longer get location updates. Also, what’s to stop a dog thief simply taking the collar off? But perhaps this is a sign of things to come. Dogs Trust is hopeful that one day technology like this will be as common as microchips are today.
It’s a sad reflection of modern life that we can’t walk our dogs to the local shop and leave them outside without the fear they won’t be there when we come out.
Being aware of the extensive nature of dog theft will help us all be more vigilant in protecting our dogs from this awful crime.