Pet Theft: What You Need to Know To Keep Your Fur baby Safe
There is nothing more terrifying than the thought of losing your fur baby, especially at the hands of another person. So today we are going to explore the facts and figures around pet theft, what to do if you suspect that your pet is stolen, and everything else you can do to help keep your four-legged loved one safe.
How Common is Pet Theft?
With the popularity of pop culture phenomena such as Ace Ventura and 101 Dalmatians, it may feel like major pet thievery is happening every day — but we want to quickly establish at the top of this piece that accurately quantifying the number of pet thefts that occur each year can be a difficult feat.
The American Kennel Club’s Reunite program attempts to maintain a national pet theft database, which suggests that pet theft is generally on the rise: only 71 pets were reported stolen in 2008 compared to the 490 pets reported stolen as of September 26 of 2016. And while we know that any pet theft is far too much pet theft, in the grand scheme of the lost pet problem pet owners are less likely to experience pet theft vs a lost pet scenario.
Nevertheless, the fear of having one’s pet stolen is a top concern for many pet owners, according to Annalisa Berns, a certified private investigator and pet detective with Pet Search and Rescue.
“Out of the thousands of calls that I field, I estimate that 95% of the people I speak with think that someone stolen their pet,” she says. “In reality, [pet theft] is a rare occurrence – It does happen, just not as often as we suspect that it does.”
Why is the Fear of Pet Theft Fear So Prevalent?
Berns believes that some of the hyper-fear around pet theft likely results from our general culture of mistrust or if someone has previously experienced incidents of theft. Berns also notes that there may be a more general misunderstanding about the different legal and jurisdictional definitions for what encompasses pet theft:
- Pet Theft / A Stolen Pet occurs when someone has taken or removed a pet with the intent to deprive the rightful owner of his or her property.
- Theft By Finding occurs when a pet is found, but the finder fails to take steps to establish that the pet lost or has been abandoned and actively decides to not find the pet’s rightful owner.
- Lost Pet Scenario may occur after a pet goes missing from a pet owner and is found, but is then taken in by the finder after unsuccessful attempts to reunite the pet with its original owner.
“Pet theft plays off of the lack of an established system and people’s false sense of security (and sometimes carelessness) and not having identification on their pets at all times and securing their pets,” Berns says.
How Can I Protect My Pet From Theft?
We shared some of the above facts and figures to hopefully help dispel the hyper-inflated fears on pet theft, but we always recommend that pet owners take any necessary preparations to prevent the worst.
According to the pet advocacy group PAWS, some likely reasons pets may be stolen include:
- If the dog is a purebred: A pup’s pedigree may have a street value that will earn a high monetary return with little/to no expense for the pet napper.
- To be sold to a breeding facility: There have been incidents where pets were stolen, sold and shipped to puppy mills to be used for breeding.
- For reward money: Thieves may steal animals in the hope that a sizable reward to be posted, only to then “save the day” and collect the money from unsuspectingly grateful pet owners.
- To use for dog fighting arena: Some stolen pets may be taken to become “bait dogs,” which are used to train fighting dogs – a highly illegal activity in and of itself.
- To sell to research labs: There is a market need for stolen or lost pets to be sold to research institutions who may use animals for testing or other experimentations.
After working with clients on thousands of different lost pet cases (including some incidents of pet theft), Berns says she often advises pet owners to take the following precautions around their home to help protect their fur baby from unlawful activity:
- Make sure fences gates are completely closed and gates are securely locked when your pet is outside.
- Keep small pets inside whenever possible and plan to only take them outside with supervision. Due to their size, a small pet can be more easily be taken by a passersby and stowed in a bag or purse.
- Limit home and yard access to approved and trusted visitors when you are unavailable to be at your house to provide supervision.
- Create double door entrances where possible, such as including a screen door and an inside door or a front gate and a front door.
- Consider purchasing security cameras to monitor your home perimeter. Should you decide to install security cameras, also plan to post security warning signs around the premises to ward off potential home invaders.
- Get to know your neighbors and make them aware that you have pets in the home. Plan to give them your contact information as well as an up-to-date picture of your pet. Ask them to contact you immediately should they ever see your pet escape/get out.
- Try to limit unsupervised outdoor exposures for your cat, unless they are in an enclosed space such as a porch or a “cattery.”
And should you decide to take your furry loved one along for a quick errand or on another trip outside of the house, consider following some of the tips from the Humane Society of the United States to help ensure no one targets your pup for theft:
- Always keep your dog on a leash in public places. Keeping your pup on a leash will help prevent them from running off and potentially catching the attention of thieves.
- Never leave your dog unattended in the car or tied up in front of shop, particularly in highly trafficked locations.
- Avoid sharing overly personal details about your pet (e.g. are they a purebred? How much did the pet cost?) with strangers or people you don’t know well or trust.
- Consider getting your dog spayed and neutered, as spayed pets are less likely to roam from home.
- Before leaving the house, check to ensure that your pet’s tags are securely fastened and contain accurate and up-to-date contact information
- Don’t have your pet microchipped? Getting your pet microchipped can greatly increase the odds of reunion should your pet go missing. Check out our resource on microchipping to consider whether this may be an appropriate identification method for your furry loved one.
What Should I Do If I Think My Pet Was Stolen?
If you suspect that your pet has been stolen and there is evidence to suggest that a crime was committed (such as their home being broken into, car is stolen, etc.), you should immediately contact your local authorities and file a corresponding police report about the incident.
But what if there isn’t overwhelming evidence of a crime, but you still believe your pet was stolen? Berns recommends taking the time to review any available details and then trying to logically piece together a plausible storyline of events.
“If they suspect pet theft but there is no proof, they should sit down with a trusted, calm friend and write a list of why theft is a possibility and why not,” Bern says. “Or, list all possible scenarios and see what facts point to each one. For example, if an outside cat doesn’t come home one night, a list might include that it is possible that the cat is stuck somewhere.”
What Else Can I Do To Help Find My Pet?
While the police are working hard to follow leads and crack the case, you can assist with the search efforts by starting to get the word out in your community.
Posting your lost pet to PawBoost will instantly alert local pet lovers on Facebook, by email, and on the PawBoost app. The more people in on the search, the better your chances of happy reunion.
When it comes to boots on the ground efforts: You can begin your outreach by canvassing in your neighborhood for lost pet sightings and putting up missing pet posters. Have questions about what to include on your missing pet poster or where to put them so they will get the most exposure? Check out our resource for everything you may need to know about how to make an eye-catching missing pet poster.
We know that losing or having a pet stolen can be a traumatic experience, but try to remember that there are teams and experts ready to help should you need further assistance in your search efforts. In addition to contacting Annalisa Berns, you can also learn more about pet detectives in your area by researching the Missing Animal Response Network (MARN) Directory.