Pet theft

Pet theft

Pet theft is a serious problem and the pandemic has made it worse. Luckily, there’s lots you can do to protect your dog or cat from being stolen.

While it’s not something we like to think about, pet theft is a growing problem in both the US and Canada. According to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, an estimated two million companion animals are stolen each year in the US alone. And thanks to the pandemic, pet theft is becoming increasingly common. People are adopting and buying dogs and cats in record numbers to help alleviate stress, loneliness and isolation. Meanwhile, desperate economic times are driving others to turn to theft, taking advantage of the demand for companion animals by stealing them and selling them for their own profit. You might not think it’s something you need to worry about, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry. This article offers valuable tips to prevent your own dog or cat from becoming a victim of theft.

Which animals are targeted the most?

Purebreds, small dogs, and cats are in high demand for apartment and city dwellers, while puppies and kittens are popular with families, so these animals are stolen more often. Some dogs are even stolen to order.

Cats most at risk are the easily recognizable breeds such as Siamese, Sphynx, and long-haired breeds like ragdolls or Maine coons. The American Kennel Club reports that the dog breeds most apt to be stolen are Siberian huskies for their striking looks; friendly Labradors; toy and mini poodles, Shih Tzus, Yorkshire terriers, and Maltese for their size; German shepherds (mostly stolen as puppies), bulldogs (since winning Best in Show in 2019), and French bulldogs for their charm.

Most thieves are opportunistic snatch-and-grab types. A break-in might happen for a “high value” animal, but is less likely.

Does ID protect against theft?

Not really. While ID for your dog or cat is certainly important, it won’t necessarily prevent him from being stolen. Collar tags and GPS devices can be removed, and microchips only work if they’re scanned. If a thief says he’s selling his mother’s dog, a previous chip won’t raise an alarm.

This doesn’t mean you should forget about providing your dog or cat with identification – it’s still vital to finding your animal if he ever wanders away or gets lost on his own. (For more about ID options, see “The best ID options for your dog” in AW V22I6).

Top 10 tips for preventing pet theft

  1. Don’t leave your dog alone in the yard, even if it’s fenced in. “Dogs are most vulnerable in the front of side yard,” adds Daniel Caughill, co-founder of The Dog Tale. “The easiest opportunity to steal a dog is while their person is indoors. You may be able to keep an eye on him through the window, but thieves can pull up, grab your dog, and drive off in a matter of seconds.”
  2. Put padlocks on the gate.
  3. Teach your dog not to jump up to be petted over the fence.
  4. Don’t let either your dog or cat roam at large.
  5. Keep your cat indoors unless you have an enclosure or can train him to walk on a harness and leash. Keep enclosure doors locked, and be sure to supervise your cat. Never tether him outside alone on a lead.
  6. When walking your dog, vary your routes and walk times. It’s not only safer – it’s also more interesting for both of you!
  7. Take notice if someone watches to see where you live, asks too many questions about your dog (e.g. is she spayed, purebred, did she cost a lot?), or wants to make friends with her.
  8. Say no if someone offers to give your dog a treat. This is also a good idea for nutritional reasons.
  9. If you’re doing errands while walking your dog, never leave him tied outside a store while you’re in shopping. “I see dogs tied outside businesses when I’m walking my scent detection dogs,” says Diana Ludwiczak, CEO of Doctor Sniffs Bed Bug Dogs. “People think they’ll only be inside for a minute but the line could be long or they see someone they know and stop to say hi. It’s risky because it would only take a moment for a thief to untie the dog’s leash and walk away with him.”
  10. This should go without saying, but don’t leave your dog in the car, even for a few minutes. Not only is it dangerous in warm weather, but it gives a thief the opportunity to pop the lock, grab the pup, and be gone before anyone notices.

Are there any laws against pet theft?

“Most states view the stealing of a dog as an insignificant crime,” says David Reischer, Esquire, New York Attorney and CEO of LegalAdvice.com. “Even though people consider their animals a member of the family, the law views stealing a dog or cat as theft of personal property, meaning, it’s a mere larceny, penalized the same as stealing jewelry or other private possessions. Kidnapping a person is a serious criminal offense but the law simply does not view taking a dog or cat as a comparable crime. In the majority of states, it’s a misdemeanor, and penalties include relatively minuscule fines and little to no jail time. New York, however, classifies theft of a dog as a felony punishable by up to six months in jail.”

In fact, only 15 states include animal theft in their criminal code: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma. Rhode Island, Virginia, Texas, Washington, and West Virginia. California and Louisiana base penalties on the monetary value of the stolen animals. In Louisiana, for example, if the dog is worth $500 or more, the thief can go to jail for up to ten years. If the dog is worth less than $500, fines and less jail time are applicable.

Virginia, meanwhile, classifies the theft of a dog as a Class 5 felony, punishable by up to ten years in jail. Dognapping is also a felony in Oklahoma, and is punishable with a jail sentence of six months to three years, plus a fine that’s triple the value of the dog. Mississippi also classifies theft as a felony with jail time of up to six months and/or a fine up to $500.

Protecting your dog or cat from theft simply means being vigilant. Never leave him unsupervised outdoors or in your vehicle, and pay attention to any inner voice that tells you when something’s just not right. Thieves are smart…but you can be smarter!

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