Today is the first Dog Theft Awareness Day, organised by the Stolen and Missing Pets Alliance (SAMPA) and Gareth Johnson MP.
Mr Johnson, MP for Dartford, said: “Dog theft is a particularly nasty crime which causes great distress to the owners and to the dogs themselves.
“It is a rising issue with hundreds of dogs being stolen every year. Too often dogs that are stolen are simply reported as missing and very few are ever returned to their owners.”
He contacted all 43 police forces in England and Wales to ask them for details about dog theft in their areas.
He said: “Of the 34 forces which replied, there have been more than 5,000 reported cases of dog theft since 2011. Of these, just 12% of dogs were reported to have been returned to their owners.
“At the moment, there is no specific crime of dog theft and so if it does reach court, a dog which is a well-loved family member is treated like any other chattel, such as a TV or mobile phone, and the sentence is based on monetary value.
“Dog theft is a nasty crime and causes devastation to dog owners and huge stress to the dogs themselves.”
A spokesman for SAMPA said few cases reached court. “Police statistics vary across the country and are simply the tip of the iceberg. They show how a force records dog theft rather than the size of the problem. Neither do they record the crime of ‘theft by finding’ where a dog goes missing and is picked up and sold on or kept as a pet or for breeding.
“Until scanning of microchips is compulsory by vets, rescues and other authorities there can be no guarantee that a dog will be reunited with its rightful owner.”
The RSPCA advises these steps to help keep pets safe:
- Don’t leave your dog outside a shop or in a car alone.
- Teach your dog a reliable recall for when you’re out walking.
- Check your garden to make sure it’s secure and, if you have a gate, then fit it with a lock.
- Neuter your pet, as this can reduce the likelihood of roaming and make them less valuable to a thief who may want to breed puppies.
- Make sure your pet is wearing a collar with an ID tag which includes up-to-date contact details.
- Microchip your pet and keep the details updated so that if your pet does go missing or is stolen then there is a higher chance they can be reunited. Microchipping is now a legal requirement.
- Keep recent photographs of your pet and make a note of any distinguishing features.
If you suspect your dog has been stolen, the RSPCA advises taking these steps immediately:
- Check your home and local area thoroughly.
- If the animal is definitely missing, register them with a company such as Petslocated, Dogslost or the National Pets register.
- If you suspect your animal may have been stolen, contact the police.
- Call your microchip company so they can flag your pet as missing – this will also alert to them anyone trying to re-register the same microchip number.
- Call your local dog warden and vets to see if your pet has been handed in and contact the RSPCA and other animal welfare organisations.
- Put flyers on notice boards, through letter boxes and post on social media.
Sarah Osborne’s springer spaniel Bella was stolen from outside a supermarket in Northampton in October 2015 and she feared they’d never see her again. But, four months later, a confused and bewildered Bella wandered into a shop in Bristol – 110 miles away.
The family hunted for Bella, launched a social media campaign, put up posters and contacted the local media, but there were no sightings.
As soon as Bella was scanned for a microchip at RSPCA Bristol Dogs & Cats Home, Sarah received the call she and her family had been waiting for.
Sarah said: “I don’t think everyone realises, when they take on a pet, how important microchipping is. If Bella hadn’t have been chipped, we never would have seen her again.”