a Chihuahua peers round a garden gate

Pet theft and how to prevent it

Having a pet stolen is every pet owner’s worst nightmare, and according to police statistics obtained by Blue Cross, pet theft is on the rise. According to a freedom of information request sent to UK forces, 1,823 dogs were reported stolen in 2018.

But there are steps you can take to prevent your pet from being stolen and we have advice on this below.

Why are pets stolen?

Pets are stolen for a number of reasons. Convictions of pet thieves have revealed motivations include financial gain and breeding (including puppy farming).

The most commonly stolen dog breeds in 2018 were the Staffordshire bull terrier, French bulldog, Chihuahua, and jack russell terrier.

A Blue Cross survey revealed pet owners believe dogs, cats and rabbits are also the targets of theft because of organised criminal gangs (70 per cent), 94 per cent of owners said they believe criminals are specifically targeting homes in order to steal pets, and almost a third think thieves steal pets to claim reward money or use for ransom.

Where are pets stolen from?

According to the latest dog theft statistics that Blue Cross has gathered from police forces around the country (obtained spring 2019), the vast majority of dogs are stolen from inside the home, with many also being taken from gardens, and a few hundred being taken in a public area such as in the street.

The number of dogs recorded as being stolen from the home has increased by 97 per cent between 2015 and 2018. Twice as many dogs were stolen from their homes in 2018 than from public areas such as in the street or outside a shop.

How to prevent your pet being stolen

Taking precautions to make your pet less attractive to thieves, make it difficult for thieves to get to your pet, and make your pet less visible to them, will all help to protect your pet against being stolen.

  • Don’t leave your pet in places where they are easily accessible for thieves. Tying a dog up outside a shop or leaving them alone in the car or even in your own garden with poor fencing means it is easier for opportunist thieves to quickly snatch your pet while you’re not there. 
  • Lock your doors and secure your windows when you go out and your pet is home alone to deter burglars
  • Keep a close eye on your pet on walks and teach dogs a solid recall so they return to you quickly if approached by a stranger
  • Many pet owners love to share photos of their pets on social media, but revealing their home or frequently visited locations can mean thieves can target specific pets. Don’t post your address details online. If you’re a dog owner, vary the routes you walk so you’re not following a noticeable routine.
  • If you’re an Instagram fan, don’t use location tags or make it obvious from photos that you are often in the same place at the same time with your pet
  • Make sure your dog is wearing an ID tag when out on walks
  • Microchipping your pet won’t prevent them from being stolen, but it will mean you can be reunited quickly should your stolen pet be found. When stolen pets are discovered but no microchip information can be found when they are scanned, it is very difficult for the authority or charity who has your pet in their care to reunite you with them. This is also true if your pet’s microchip details are not up to date as you cannot be contacted. Dogs must be microchipped by law, and we recommend getting cats and rabbits chipped too.

What to do if your pet is stolen

Theft is a criminal offence and should be reported to your local police force as soon as possible. Make sure you give the police as much information about your pet’s physical appearance as possible, including photos, and details about what happened when your pet was stolen. If your pet is microchipped, ask the police officer to take a note of the microchip number. If you or anyone witnessed your pet being stolen, give the police a clear description of the thief and any details about vehicles that were used.

Ask the police for a crime reference number when you report your pet as stolen. This makes sure the theft is logged on the system as a crime, rather than just an incident, and acts as a reference number that you can follow up on.

Tell your pet’s microchip company. If your pet is microchipped, call the database that their chip is registered to and ask them to mark their record as a stolen pet. Give them the crime reference number you’ve got from the police. This means that if your pet is found and scanned, the person scanning will be alerted straight away that your pet is stolen and they can inform the police. If you don’t know which database your pet’s microchip is registered to, you can find out by putting the chip number into the Check a Chip website.

If your dog is stolen, tell your dog warden. Dog warden services are run by your local authority and could be provided by a county, district or borough council. To check which authority you should report your missing dog to, you can put your postcode into the government’s website here.  Dog wardens are responsible for missing dogs while the police are responsible for stolen dogs, but it’s still worth alerting the dog warden as your dog may end up in their care.

Register your pet with DogLost. It’s free to register, and while it’s mainly for dogs, owners of other missing pets, including cats and birds, use it to encourage people to keep an eye out. DogLost will send an alert to people in your area to let them know your pet has been stolen and ask them to join the search.

Alert local vet practices and rescue centres. Give them a description of your stolen pet and your contact details and ask them to call you if your pet is brought to them.

Put up posters. Use clear photos of your pet and stick up posters in the area your pet was stolen.

Call or email us if you need emotional support. Our free and confidential Pet Bereavement Support Service offers a friendly and sympathetic listening service for anyone experiencing the loss of a pet. Having a pet stolen can be extremely emotional and upsetting, and talking about it with an understanding person, or writing your feelings down in an email, can help.

What’s the law on pet theft?

It may surprise you to learn that in the nation of animal lovers, pet theft is not a crime in its own right. Under the law, pets are considered ‘chattles’, which means they are seen as possessions and hold the same legal rights as a mobile phone or TV when stolen. 

Although the maximum prison sentence for theft is seven years, the law considers pets in terms of their monetary value and bases sentencing on this. With many pets being worth less than £500, sentencing for pet theft often means convicted thieves do not go to prison for their crime. We believe a custodial sentence would act as a deterrent against pet theft.

What is Blue Cross doing about pet theft?

Blue Cross has been campaigning for changes to pet theft laws for many years. We have written to and met with politicians to ask them to make prison sentencing for stealing a pet much tougher to act as a deterrent and help stop the crime from happening. We believe pet theft should be a crime in its own right, taking into account that pets are living animals and part of our families, and the distress theft causes to both the pet and their family.

Blue Cross runs a free and confidential support line for anyone going through the loss of a pet, including for owners whose pets have been stolen. If your pet has been stolen and you’d like to speak to an understanding person about your loss, please call us on 0800 096 6606 from 8.30am – 8.30pm, or email [email protected] if you’d prefer to write your feelings down. Find out more about our Pet Bereavement Support Service here.

— Page last updated 09/09/2019

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