Since the start of the pandemic, pet adoptions have been on the rise as people look for lockdown companionship. Parallel to the rise in adoptions has been the rise in pet kidnappings as criminals recognized they could take advantage of this new demand. In the UK alone, pet kidnappings have more than doubled since 2020, while state and local animal protection agencies in the US have confirmed thefts have noticeably climbed well into 2021.
While we hope such a thing never happens to our beloved pups, there are steps you can take to ensure your pet stays safe from thieves. Our walker Nathaniel gives us the details on why people steal pets, how to keep them safe while at home and outside, and what you can do in a worst-case scenario.
Why do people kidnap dogs?
Pets are still considered individual property in our society, and so can be bought, sold, and carry monetary value like any other form of property. Dogs are especially valuable property, with purebreds fetching an average of $2,000-5,000.
People who kidnap dogs to sell, also known as ‘dog flippers’, often trade with pet stores, disreputable breeders, or puppy mills. Some act as ‘Class B dealers’ for biomedical research laboratories looking for test subjects. Even more tragically, others sell their victims into the dogfighting business. Then there are instances where the pet is held for ransom, as happened recently with Lady Gaga’s French bulldogs (all of whom are safe at home as of this writing).
Among the most targeted pets are trendy, small, and/or purebred dogs. Smaller pets are natural targets for theft as they can be easily carried away or lifted out of bags when their owner is not looking. If you are the proud owner of a Yorkshire Terrier, then be aware that Yorkies are the number one target for dog theft. Pit bulls are popular targets for thieves who sell dogs for fighting.
Before we talk about what you can do to keep your pet safe on a walk, there are a few preliminary steps you can take to lower the chances of your pet being kidnapped and increase the chances you will find them again if they are stolen.
The first thing is, make sure your pet is microchipped and that you have their unique microchip ID on file. If your pet is kidnapped, they will surface in a recovery database if the kidnapper attempts to sell them to a pet store, laboratory, or drops them off at a shelter. Ensure your documentation is complete, up-to-date, and in accordance with your state’s pet ownership laws.
Spayed and neutered pets are less likely targets for thieves. Not only are they unable to be used for breeding (if you need to ask, ask the birds and bees) but neutered dogs are also less aggressive and thus ineffective for fighting. It’s recommended you include this information on your dog’s ID tags.
Speaking of ID tags, some actually recommend against including your pet’s name on the tag. The thinking behind this is that if a kidnapper learns your dog’s name, they might use that information to lure the dog away. Just make sure to include your contact information, spay/neuter status, and primary vet. If you are able to make the investment, smart collars and GPS collars can also be a great help locating your pet in the event of a kidnapping. Again, if you own a smaller, pure, or trendy breed of dog, all of these precautions are highly recommended as they are more likely targets for theft.
Keeping them safe on walks
The central tenet of all our advice to protect your pet against thieves is this: leash and monitor your pet at all times while walking outside. Off-leash dogs are prime targets for thievery as all it takes is for the owner to walk too far ahead, too far behind, or otherwise have an attention lapse to potentially lose their dog. Not to mention that in Chicago, it’s illegal to not use a leash (see our article on leash laws: Chicago Leash Laws – Windy City Paws).
While meeting people on your walk, be aware of the kinds of questions people ask of your dog. It may seem rude, but protecting your pet by withholding their name, breed, age or other information about them from curious passers-by can be a deterrent to bad actors. This is especially good advice for professional dog-walkers who want to look out for their clients.
Monitoring your pet at all times while out in public also means never leaving them tied up and alone. If you can’t bring your pet inside a store or restaurant, it can probably wait another day. It’s not worth leaving your pet vulnerable to kidnappers while you’re indisposed.
Leaving your pet alone in a car is also not recommended. Not only is this a heat stroke risk even with windows cracked, but pet thieves have been known to break into vehicles as well.
Keeping them safe at home
When your dog is outside, make sure to monitor them in some form at all times, even if they’re in your backyard. In general, don’t allow your dog to free-roam your front yard unsupervised, if you have one. Ensure your backyard is secure so that potential thieves cannot open it easily or reach over/through and grab your pet. In general, supervise your pet at all times when they’re not indoors.
Even cats can be victims of kidnapping, which is another potential reason to keep them indoors (for more on this topic, check out our article on indoor vs outdoor cats: Outdoor Cats vs. Indoor Cats – Windy City Paws)
Smart collars and GPS collars can still be effective when observing your dog at home. If you leave your pet alone at home during the day, investing in home cameras that stream directly to your phone or laptop can be yet another additional security measure for ensuring your dog (or cat’s!) safety.
What do I do if my pet has been kidnapped?
If you are ever in the tragic situation where you suspect your pet has been stolen, there are a few steps you can take to give you and your pet a fighting chance.
When you contact the police, report it as a theft and not as a missing pet. Report the theft to your local animal control as well, if applicable. Afterward, contact all local animal shelters, vets, groomers, and boarding houses in your area and any neighboring areas to alert them. Kidnappers may attempt to house them temporarily at any of these locations or drop off the pet if they lose the inclination to keep them. Network and put up flyers in dog parks and other meet-up spots to spread the word.
It is advised that if you put up flyers notifying your missing pet, do not specify the reward you are offering, and do not suspend your need to ask questions. Sadly, some people do prey on vulnerable dog owners who are eager to find their lost pets, so make sure to ask plenty of questions if someone reaches out to you. The reward is something to be discussed after the pet has been confirmed and delivered safely.
Monitor online activity for new ads that match your pet’s description. While Craigslist has an official policy prohibiting selling animals through its platform, this policy is not enforced and many adverts for pets do appear.
Finally, if you believe you have spotted your pet in someone else’s care or on their property, do not engage them or attempt to retrieve the pet yourself! Contact the police or relevant animal control authorities first and provide them the necessary information about your case and what you are observing.
While we hope the worst never happens to us, we should all look out for our furry family members as best we can. If you take away any core tips from this article, make it these three:
- Make sure your pet is microchipped and spayed/neutered
- That they are leashed and attended to at all times when they’re outside your home,
- That their documents are up to date.
With those three tips in mind, you can take that much more comfort in knowing that your pet will stay by your side for life.
Thank you Nathaniel for that information on protecting your pet from thieves! Windy City Paws is a Fear Free Chicago dog walker and petsitter committed to providing helpful information to Chicago dog owners through its blog.