IT’S BAD ENOUGH when your phone or your credit card gets pinched. But it’s devastating when you discover your dog has been stolen.
A vital companion and family member is missing and you don’t know what’s happening to them or if you will ever see them again. Anyone who has ever been through this, as I have, will know just how traumatic it is.
Yet the law treats a stolen dog just the same as a nicked iPad. Fewer than five per cent of dog theft cases ever end in conviction, and even these usually only result in a fine or a community service order.
Dog thieves are taking advantage of this, with recorded thefts currently about 2,000 a year. Most of us dog owners are aware that the reported statistics are just the tip of the iceberg.
We all have stories of dogs that have been “rescued” when out working, or taken from vehicles or even locked kennels. Several professional gundog trainers have had their kennel runs targetted overnight by thieves equipped with bolt cutters.
My own friendly and obedient springer spaniel, Ricky, proved all too easy to dog-nap, confidently following someone who told him to heel while my attention was distracted by an accomplice asking for directions.
Because of their training and their lifestyles, gundogs make soft targets, and they are also the most “wantable” dog of the moment.
Oh so trendy cockers, springers and Labradors are the most frequently stolen dogs.
With the police over-stretched and local authorities reducing their dog warden services, there is still plenty we can do ourselves to fight dog theft.
What can we do?
Right from the start, your puppy must be micro-chipped by law, so make sure to register your puppy with a national database and remember to keep the details up to date. But a microchip relies on it being scanned. Support your fellow dog owners by never, ever buying a dog or puppy without having the microchip scanned and getting all the accompanying paperwork.
Make a document for your dog on the computer, with photos of him. The document should include contact numbers for dog search organisations; the dog warden; the police; and up to date details of his microchip log. You can also use this document to make a “missing dog” poster which should include photos, mobile phone contact number (no point using the home phone as you will be out searching) and reward details if you are offering one, but not the dog’s name which a thief could use to try to prove ownership. Your poster should be publishable straight onto social media.
It’s important to have all this ready in advance, as you will be too upset to think straight once the worst has happened.
When Ricky was dog-napped I was lucky that he already had a strong social media presence and rapidly became too hot to handle as soon as I posted online.
Thank heavens, I got a mysterious phone call within a couple of hours saying he’d been “found” – although where he had been “found” was more than 20 miles away.
Be “theft-aware” from the start. Don’t leave your dog unattended. Most pet dogs are stolen when left running free in the garden or parks. Gundog owners face the additional problem of pre-meditated theft from the kennel or the shoot.
Get together with fellow dog-workers and make a plan to combat this as a group. Even if Cruella de Vil is coming round the corner – our dogs can still be safe!
If you find yourself in the same awful situation here are some websites which might help.
Top tips to keep your dog safe
BASC firearms officer Simon Vann is a former police dog handler. Here’s his advice on keeping your dogs safe.
A number of dog thefts occur from the backs of vehicles. Rather than having dogs loose and therefore more easily accessible, owners should consider installing dog crates, kennels or tailgate doors, preferably ones that can be locked.
When leaving dogs in the vehicle, make use of devices such as vent locks. These serve several purposes:
- The tail-gate can be left open, but the vehicle can be locked. This also aids ventilation.
- With the door only open a little, it is impossible to remove a dog or tamper with tailgate /kennel doors.
- If you do not have locking kennel doors, secure them with bicycle wheel lock cables.
Where practical, keep the vehicle in sight when parked. Remember it only takes a few seconds to commit theft.
On overnight stays, try to use dog-friendly accommodation rather than leaving dogs in vehicles.
At home, if your dogs are kennelled outside, consider fitting inexpensive door contact alarms. These can cost less than £5.
Fit entry indicators on external gates. These will chime, for example, if your garden gate is opened.
Also, it is possible to buy inexpensive camera systems that allow you to monitor kennels ‘live’ from your smartphone. They can also be set up to send alerts in the event of unusual activity.
Consider carefully whether to advertise training sessions for working dogs on social media. Clearly, anywhere there will be a group of dogs in one place for any length of time will be a possible attraction to thieves.
Report suspicious activity to the police and, if possible, link to other dog groups such as working trials IPO, Agility and obedience clubs.
Don’t forget, microchipping is now law and helps establish ownership after a lost or stolen dog is recovered. A sign on your car or gate advertising that dogs are chipped may be some deterrent to an opportunistic thief.