Pet lovers will be horrified to hear that according to new research dognapping is becoming the fastest-growing crime in the UK and is still on the increase, with the stolen pet market booming. Over 40,000 dogs are reported missing each year, with the Battersea Dogs and Cats home receiving nearly 7,000 reports to its Lost Dogs and Cats line.
Who is at Risk?
Any dog can be a target, particularly if it has especially striking or attractive colours, coat or markings. Pedigree dogs seem to be most at threat as these dogs can be re-sold for substantial amounts of money. Dogs believed to be of “fighting type” are also at greater risk as they are often stolen for use in underground dog fighting rings. Dogs that are often left to wander around instead of being secured on their owner’s property are more likely to be picked up. Dogs with poor recall, who run off when let loose in the park, are also more likely to go missing. The breed that seems to be stolen the most often is the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, with numerous demands made for cash in exchange for their safe return.
A Cruel Game…
Many dogs are taken so that the kidnappers can then blackmail, coerce or bully the owners for money. They will wait until the owners start to putting up posters offering rewards and then contact the owners, claiming either to have found and ‘rescued’ the dog or even just demand a straight ransom for safe return of your pet. Some demands by dishonest “finders” have come to nearly £1,000 with frantic owners helpless and in despair.
How to Protect Your Dog
- Get your dog microchipped and/tattooed. This can make the crucial difference for the dog being identified and returned to you. A microchip is implanted just beneath the skin at the scruff of the neck through a simple, painless procedure performed by your vet and it will remain there permanently where it can be picked up by a special scanner and then traced back to your name and contact details on a central register. (Always remember to keep your microchip and pet identification details updated when you move house or change any of your contact numbers.)
- Make sure that your dog always wears a secure collar with a clearly visible ID tag on it at all times, bearing you contact details (this is actually a legal requirement and you can be fined if your dog isn’t wearing a collar and tag) – however, it might not be a good idea to put your dog’s or your own personal details on the tag, in case this information is used by the dognappers.
- Ensure that you have strong, adequate fencing around your property and that you test it to make sure that your dog can’t slip through any gaps, climb over the top or burrow under. Never underestimate the ability of dogs to escape – some dogs are consummate escape artists and can devise very clever ways to overcome your fencing. In some cases, you may need to dig fencing several feet underground to prevent digging and burrowing out and also make sure that it is high enough that your dog cannot scale it. Do not assume that just because your dog is small, a short fence will suffice – many of the smaller dogs are some of the world’s best jumpers and can clear taller fences that will stop many a larger dog. If you are unsure of your fencing, don’t leave your dog unattended in the garden.
- Secure fencing will also make it harder for opportunistic thieves to break in.
- Always make sure that you shut all doors and gates firmly (and ask any visitors to do the same) and do not leave windows open wide enough for your dog to jump out, if it is likely to escape that way.
- NEVER let your dog out on its own to wander around the street or the “village green”.
- Always keep your dog on lead unless it is in a designated off-leash area. Keep it on lead near main roads and in busy areas, where it is likely to run off and go missing.
- Spend time training a good, solid recall – get professional help if necessary – and do not let your dog off the lead unless you are confident that he will return when called, even in the presence of distractions.
- Be a bit wary of over-friendly strangers who ask for a lot of information about your dog, particularly if it is territorial and where it is kept.
- Never leave your dog tied up, unattended outside shops and other buildings.
- It can be a good idea to keep a DNA sample from your dog (you can do this by swabbing a cotton bud on the inside of your pet’s mouth and then sealing it inside a clean, sterile container) which will provide indisputable evidence that your dog belongs to you.
- It is also a good idea to neuter your pet, whether male or female, as neutered dogs are less inclined to roam.
A website has been set up by a dog owner whose own dog was stolen, to help other owners find their lost pets. Around 1,200 dogs have now being reunited with their owners through www.doglost.co.uk and this can be a good first port of call should your dog go missing.