No pet parent wants to think about their dog getting stolen or lost. Unfortunately, dog stealing or kidnapping– nowadays simply known as dognapping – is not only a sad fact of life, it’s a phenomenon that’s on the rise all over the world. In fact, pet thefts have become so prevalent that the AKC reports that senate houses have taken notice and are proposing laws to toughen punishments for pet thieves. But until dognapping becomes more strictly punishable by law everywhere (it’s currently treated differently from country to country), what are dog owners supposed to do? How can we keep our beloved pets safe and sound?
While you can’t control other people’s actions, you can at least do your best to protect your dog from bad people. To do that, it’s important to inform yourself about dog theft as much as possible– what it is, how it happens and why – as well as the best ways you can keep your pet safe no matter where you are.
What is Dognapping
Dognapping is, to put it simply, pet theft. It’s the crime of stealing a dog from its owner with the intention of re-selling it or demanding a ransom for its return. Basically, it’s a play on words dog and kidnapping, which should tell you plenty about animal snatchers.
While dognapping may sound like a sad new fad, it most certainly isn’t. There are reports of dogs being held by ransom since the 1930s, so the crime has been around for around 90 years now. Back then, most dogs were sold to medical firms and research laboratories for experimentation, many were resold out of the state, and some were returned by their snatchers after they collected the reward listed by the their owners.
Today, dognapping is carried out mostly for fueling the black market for dogs of particular breeds, although there are still lots of instances of dognappers extorting money from the owners.
Why Do Dognappings Happen
The reason is very simple – money.
Snatched dogs can be resold to unsuspecting buyers while stolen puppies can be sold to backyard breeders or puppy mills. This often happens with purebred dogs and designer breeds which can cost up to $2000 per pet. That’s why it’s important to never buy dogs or puppies directly off the Internet, from roadside vans or at flea markets (more on prevention later!).
Many dogs are snatched so the kidnappers can make money off of the owners. This can happen to anyone, unfortunately. Many thieves will purposefully look for families and people who seem to have deep bonds with their pets as they know they’re likely to pay to get their beloved animal(s) back. However disgusting or unlikely to happen in your neighborhood this may seem, it’s important to realize that dognapping is a crime that happens all around the world.
Finally, particular breeds can even be sold to dog fighting rings either as bait dogs or fighters. Obviously, this is the worst possible scenario and although it may involve just about any breed, it’s mostly focused on Doberman Pinschers, German Shepherds and American Pit Bull Terriers.
Whatever the reason behind dognapping (and clearly, there can be many), the end goal is always the same – profit.
How Do Dognappings Happen
Believe it or not, snatching a dog is pretty easy. All you have to do is leave your pup unattended somewhere in public for a while, and just like that, an opportunistic attack can happen. Dognapping can happen in literally a few seconds, so all it can take is you tying up your pet so you can grab a cup of coffee around the corner, or leaving them in the car for a few minutes so you can drop a package at the post office. That’s it!
Of course, this is only one type of dognapping, which is opportunistic in nature. There are also planned dognapping crimes, which are equally horrible. For example, a lot of people leave their dogs in their backyards so they can have space to play on their own. Unfortunately, if the backyard is visible to strangers, it’s a perfect way for a dognapper to learn all about your dog and your habits – the time you’re usually out of the house and the time your dog is typically in the backyard by themselves. Targeted dognaps do happen and they usually involve purebred dogs and designer breed pups as they tend to be quite valuable, especially if someone is already looking to purchase a specific dog breed.
Smaller dogs are easier to snatch than bigger dogs as they can be stuffed into a bag or purse pretty easily. That doesn’t mean that bigger breeds are any safer though – as mentioned, many thieves will target bigger and more powerful breeds for fighting purposes, such as German Shepherds, Pit Bulls, and others.
How to Keep Your Pets Safe
We talked about what dognapping is, why it happens and how it typically happens, so we can finally focus on the good stuff – how to keep our pets safe. Obviously, it’s always best to prevent the problem than to cure it, so let’s cover the most important prevention steps first.
Prevention at Home
- Don’t leave your pet alone in the yard
To reduce the chance of a dognapper snatching your pup from your very own home, it’s best not to leave your dog unattended for long periods of time in the yard. Of course, five to ten minutes is fine if you can see them through the window, however, if your yard is visible from the street, it’s not a good idea to leave them alone any longer than that.
- Don’t give out information to strangers
Some dognappers will pretend to admire your dog and will ask all kinds of questions about them, including the breed, age, where you live, etc. If you find the questions to be a bit too much, simply stop answering them. In fact, it’s best not to give personal information (such as your address) to strangers at all.
- Be careful when hiring dog help
Whether you need someone to take care of your dog for a couple of days while you’re visiting family, or a person to walk them while you’re at work, be very careful in the selection process. Believe it or not, many dognappers will pretend to be dog walkers and house-sitters as this offers them the perfect opportunity to be alone with a dog and snatch them. Use reputable companies and always check references of people who provide such services.
- Always walk your dog on a leash
When walking or jogging with your pet in your neighborhood, always keep them on a leash. Keeping your pooch close to you significantly reduces the likelihood of dognapping simply because while on a leash, a dog cannot wander off on its own.
Prevention on the Road
- Don’t leave your dog alone in the car
No matter where you’re going or how quickly you plan to finish the errand, never leave your dog alone in an unattended car. It doesn’t matter if the car is locked because determined dognappers will break in if they have to. It’s also a good idea not to leave any valuables in the car, at least not visible ones, as this can encourage break-ins and allow your pup to escape.
- Don’t leave your pet outside stores
While it’s common in some areas for people to tie their dogs while they shop for groceries, grab a cup of coffee or drop a package in a post office, this is a really bad idea when it comes to dognapping. As mentioned, many (if not most) cases of dognapping are opportunistic crimes – it takes a couple of minutes for your to grab that quick cup of coffee, but it takes even less for a thief to snatch an unattended dog.
Prevention in General
Whether your dog is an indoor or outdoor pet, they can greatly benefit from being microchipped. While ID tags and dog collars are undoubtedly useful, they’re not as nearly effective as microchips – for one, they can fall off by accident which is pretty common with high-energy outdoor dogs, and two, they can be forcibly removed by the kidnapper. Microchip, on the other hand, stays in its place no matter what, which can improve the dog’s chance of being returned if it manages to run away from a thief. It’s worth noting that any pet that is brought to a shelter or vet under suspicious circumstances is first checked for a microchip.
- Spaying or neutering
Dognappers usually look for non –spayed and non-neutered dogs as they can be sold for a higher price to backyard breeders and puppy mills. Such dogs spend their lives breeding puppies who are sold to pet stores (who don’t realize the situation!) or online. One of the best ways to reduce your dog’s chance of being dognapped is to spay or neuter them. As a bonus, spaying and neutering come with a host of health benefits for your pet.
- Wearing collars and ID tags
While microchips are more effective than collars and ID tags, it doesn’t hurt to take that extra step for the safety of your dog. Make sure you place your name, address and phone number in the tag so people can contact you if your dog is found. In some places, wearing a dog collar and ID tag is a legal requirement when the pet is in a public area.
- Adopting or buying through verified shelters and persons
One of the most important things you can do to reduce dognapping in general is to adopt or buy pets only through trusted sources. If you’re adopting, make sure the shelter or organization is actually trustworthy – check out their website, how they operate and how they treat their animals. If you’re buying, be even more vigilant – meet the breeder, ask all kinds of questions about their lineage, meet puppy’s mother and check out the litter of puppies. It’s important to properly meet the breeder and develop a good relationship, so you can be sure where the puppy and their mother is coming from. When it comes to ‘don’t’s’ of the adopting or buying, there are a couple of things to remember too. For one, do not get animals directly off the Internet as papers can be falsified. Likewise, never buy from roadside vans or at flea markets as there is no way to verify where a puppy or dog came from.
What to Do if Your Dog is Taken
Sadly, even the most careful pet parents are not immune to losing their dogs to dognapping. If it happens, here is what you need to do.
- Report the incident to local authorities
Immediately report the kidnapping to the police. While punishments may not be fitting, dognapping it still a crime. Rest assured, it’s more than likely the police already had to deal with several dognapping cases before, so they can provide invaluable help in finding your dog and returning it. Do make sure the incident is reported as theft and not a lost animal though.
- Call local shelters
Local shelters are a good place to start looking for your dog. They can keep an eye on the new animals and call you if your dog is dropped off with them. Of course, you do need to provide your pet’s information, such as their photo, age, name, etc., as well as your contact information in order for them to contact you.
- Post flyers everywhere
Put up flyers with your dog’s photo, a list of descriptive characteristics,and your phone number anywhere you can, including local shelters, coffee shops, grocery stores, light poles… The descriptive characteristics should be detailed, however, they should not be full – make sure you leave out a couple of important ones so people calling you can confirm they do indeed have your pet and are not just trying to scam you for money.
- Offer a reward
Speaking of money, you may want to actually use it as a last resort. If you can’t find your dog and you’re sure they have been stolen, a cash reward may be a good incentive for the dognapper to return them. Know that this is what many dognappers actually want – for you to offer a reward for a dog’s safe return – so if you offer cash, you’ll be playing their game. Of course, if all else fails, this may indeed be the only option so don’t feel guilty for doing your best to get your pet back.
- Dognapped! Five Things You Can Do to Prevent Pet Theft – Huff Post
- How to Keep Your Dog Safe When Pet Theft Is on the Rise – American Kennel Club