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February 14 is Pet Theft Awareness Day

The number of dogs reported lost or stolen is on the rise in the wake of the pandemic. This is a trend not just evident in Australia but across the world. 

Sadly, with the pet business becoming increasingly more lucrative there is a growing market for these stolen dogs – often fuelled by unsuspecting new owners or backyard breeders – which is why we strongly advocate never to buy a dog from an online ad or via the Classifieds.

Whilst they continue to be of value to thieves, the trend in dog thefts will sadly continue. As things stand, the law isn't of much help. Pets are still considered as property, and stealing someone's beloved dog is no different than stealing a mobile phone or a TV set - resulting in very light sentence even if the thief is caught, something that is unlikely to happen to begin with, while the potential profit is very high.

Even worse, recovering your stolen dog can become harder than recovering a stolen object: there have been cases where the dogs were sold on and the original owners, despite having proof of ownership, were told that it was "a civil matter" to settle in court, and that the police wouldn't intervene to seize their pets and return them to their rightful owners. A stolen car or laptop, for example, would be returned to the owner right away!

Who is Most at Risk?

The general perception is that dog theft is a 'casual' crime, committed on the spur of the moment in public places but in fact very often, specific dogs are targeted.

The type of dogs stolen reflects those that are of highest value for resale and breeding
Among the most likely victims are the 'fashionable' breeds such as the PugsFrench Bulldogs and Chihuahuas - those with unusual colours are particularly vulnerable - and more recently crossbreeds, sometimes called designer dogs with Cavoodles being the most popular breed in Australia!

French Bulldogs are now the 8th most popular dog breed in Australia (2020)

They are often sold on for cash or worse yet, unscrupulously bred from to sell these resulting puppies to the unsuspecting public. 

Working gundogs, such as Labrador RetrieversSpringer and Cocker Spaniels are also highly-prized breeding dogs – and larger breeds are also stolen to become bait dogs for illegal dog fighting.

Humane Society International Australia estimated 150 dog fighting rings were in operation nationally, claiming the industry is linked to the illegal weapons and drug trade.
Whilst these criminals are occasionally caught and prosecuted, a leading RSPCA inspector was quoted saying the court cases are making the rings go further underground in a bid to evade authorities.

Top 5 High-Risk Pet Theft Scenarios

#1. Highly Prized Breeds or Dogs With Special Abilities

A purebred dog or a dog with special skills is a bit like a gold watch. Thieves see dollar signs and that’s more than enough temptation. Any dog left unattended under any circumstances can be taken, but there is far greater motivation for criminals to walk off with a dog who can bring in a large sum of cash.

Be cautious when choosing someone who will care for your dog(s) while you are at work, in hospital or on holiday. Be clear about when the dog will be handed over and who will collect it.

#2. Dogs in Cars

In the blink of an eye, a partially opened window can be forced down or the window smashed and your dog can be removed from the vehicle. 

It takes 20 seconds or less to abduct a dog and by the time you return to your car, your dog is long gone. 

Lockable dog crates can be an additional deterrent but a good rule of thumb is to treat your dog as you would your laptop or phone, that is not in full view and unattended!

#3. Pets Left in Fenced Backyards

Everyone loves the convenience of a doggy door, especially criminals. Homeowners who let their pet explore the fenced yard without supervision have the illusion of safety, but police departments across the country will tell you that the theft of these dogs is climbing
Consider installing CCTV at your home and facing your yard!

Always ensure your fencing is adequate and check it regularly for wear and tear but also avoid leaving dogs unattended in gardens. Gardens where dogs are visible pose a higher risk of theft and some crooks will stop at nothing...
Ipswich Police successfully located
Buddy after one month
Recently, a $3,500 Cavoodle named Theo went missing after reportedly being stolen inside a home while its owners slept.

Eleven-week old ‘Buddy’, a young Rottweiler puppy was reported stolen from an Ipswich backyard in March 2020 after owners noticed the back fence damaged. 
Thanks to an anonymous tip, Queensland Police tracked him down and reunited him with his rightful owners after missing for more than a month.

On December 30, 2020 a pair of dog thieves took a Bull Arab dog named Bruiser from the backyard of a Malvern East home. Bruiser’s owner Nathan Erlich believes the pair also tried to steal his dog the day before when his car was set alight!

One common denominator is that the stolen pets were not de-sexed so remove the temptation by desexing your petNot only are there long-term health and behavioural benefits, spayed or neutered pets are much less desirable to thieves, since they can’t be bred.

#4. Pets Left Tied in Front of Shops

Photo Credit: NSW Police
This one may sound like a no-brainer, but particularly in urban areas where people take their pets on their errands on foot, it’s not uncommon to see dogs tied up in front of a bank or grocery store. 

Typically, these are smaller dogs who are also well-behaved and this makes them more likely to be stolen without a fuss. 

Jack, a 10-year old Jack Russell Terrier, was stolen outside a supermarket in August 2020 and was lucky to be reunited with his owner a few days later thanks to NSW Police.

#5. Strangers in the Neighbourhood

Any strangers on the property can be a risk to your pets. Whether they are invited contractors, deliverymen, visitors could easily grab your pet whilst you’re being distracted. In some cases, they are making a mental note of homes with valuable breeds or easy-to-subvert home security that will facilitate a quick dog-napping at a later time.
Fit an alarm/bell to your gate so that you can hear visitors/trespassers enter your property or keep it locked.

But there is also a worrying rise in the number of dogs being grabbed from unsuspecting owners while out for a walk or stolen during house and kennel break-ins.
Make sure your house is secure, including good window and door locks. 

Just before Christmas, 4 four-week-old Cavoodle puppies were taken from a home at Elanora on the Gold Coast. Thieves used a crowbar to open a screen door and remove the dogs from the living room!

If letting your dog off the lead, make sure their recall is iron-clad, and try, as far as possible, to keep them in sight. If in any doubt, recall them and pop them back on the lead. If your dog’s recall is poor, keep them on a lead in open and non-secure spaces. Avoid giving information about your dog to strangers, and report any suspicious activity. If you feel unsafe, try to arrange group walks with friends or neighbours.

How to Keep your Pets Safe

Although it is now a legal requirement for all dogs to have an implanted microchip containing up-to-date information with each owner's details, it also make good sense for pet safety. 

Dogs that have been sold on to unsuspecting new owners or handed in to rescue shelters after being dumped, have been successfully reunited with their owners when scanned for a microchip at the vet.

Registering your lost pet with a national register and dog lost and found sites in your State and nationally provides another quick and effective way of circulating information on missing animals. 
Social media has led to many success stories, too, by making dogs “too hot to handle”. Make sure you have clear photos of your dog from multiple angles

As technology continues to develop, pet tracking devices have become more common. Linked to an app on a smartphone, they allow owners to monitor their dogs' whereabouts. However, they're reliant upon the dog wearing a collar with the device attached and it would be the first thing a thief would discard

If you find yourself in a situation where you think your pet was stolen:
  1. Immediately file a report with your local police department and animal control.
  2. Contact your pet’s microchip company, as well as local animal shelters and hospitals to see if your pet has turned up.
  3. Post fliers around your neighbourhood, especially in public spaces and businesses, with your pet’s photo, name, breed(s), colour, weight and any distinguishing characteristics.
  4. If you offer a reward, ask for a very detailed description of your pet and how they came into that person’s possession. If you suspect that you are being scammed, call the police. Offering a reward for a missing dog can encourage a swift return but also increases the appeal of dog theft, encouraging criminals to cash in on the reward – or even demand a ransom.
  5. Monitor newspaper ads and online postings to look for any that might fit your pet’s description.
Although dog theft is now a sad reality, an awareness of the problem and the use of deterrents may be the key to at least minimising the risk of theft. It is your best friend after all.

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