Monday, 16 February 2015

Dog Theft in the UK

Living on a teeny Island in the South of England, it was probably naïve of me to believe that the crime of dog theft hadn't yet reached our shores. But, a couple of recent incidents of dogs going missing with no sightings has sparked a panic in me. If indeed dog thieves are lurking – the Island has to be the worst place within the Great Britain to commit such crime – we have, thankfully, an impressive tight-knit dog community here, who will fight dog theft very loudly and actively.

Dog theft is on the rise in the UK. It’s a little known fact that legally, the worth of our dogs is exactly the same as any other possession – so, if your dog gets stolen, it will be treated with no more or less importance than the theft of, for example, a laptop. This clearly undervalues what our dogs mean to us and goes no way towards acknowledging the terrible emotional and psychological trauma an owner of a stolen pet experiences because of the crime.

Dog thieves are sly and use all sorts of schemes and scams to get to the dogs they need. Some are stolen to order, with many taken by highly organised gangs of thieves. Some, of course, are opportunistic thefts to make a quick buck.  It’s an enormous worry, and as incidents of theft increase, it’s down to us as dog owners to make sure we do all we can to keep them safe.

Most Commonly Stolen Breeds
Based on 2013 statistics, the top ten most commonly stolen breeds were:

- Staffordshire Bull Terrier
- Border Collie
- Cocker Spaniel
- Jack Russel
- Chihauhau
- Lurcher
- Labrador
- British Bull Dog
- Japanese Akita

Some of these dogs are stolen as bait for dog fighting, some are valuable gun dogs who've been highly trained and can earn their thieves lots of money, some are simply stolen to sell straight on (whether stolen by order, or put on an internet site), and others are stolen to breed.

52% of dogs are stolen from gardens
19% as a result of burglary
16% whilst out on a walk
7% taken whilst tied up outside of shops
5% taken whilst left unattended in cars

It is estimated that over 30% of thefts are never reported, so the statistics we are working with aren’t a true reflection of the scale of crime. With micro-chipping not legally being proof of ownership, many reports are not even pursued by the police – unless the owner has proof that the dog has been stolen and is not simply missing, a Crime Report Number will not be issued. Only 5% of reported dog thefts led to prosecution in 2013 with just 1.5% of those actually being convicted.

Stolen and Missing Pets Alliance

They are campaigning for:

- Compulsory scanning of microchips by vets, rescues and dog wardens
- Compulsory scanning of deceased pets by the Highways Agency and Network Rail
- Proof of ownership through the microchip
- Reclassification of dog theft
- Stronger pet theft legislation

We can also play our part in fighting against these crimes by contacting our local MP and letting them know we want change. You can find contact details for your local MP here.

So, practically, what can we do to help keep our dogs safe?

Collar and tags. By law, all dogs in a public space should have a collar, with a tag with the owner’s name, address and post code on it. A telephone number is not statutory, but is advised.

Micro-chip and keep the details of the micro-chip updated. Get your vet to scan periodically to ensure everything is as should be. Micro-chipping of dogs will be compulsory by April 2016.

Take precautions during your walk. Vary where and when you walk – dog thieves are known to strike whilst the dog is being walked by luring them away or literally snatching them. Make sure your dog isn’t out of your sight and has a good recall. Attach a bell to their collar so you can hear them.
Never give any information out about your dog. Some thieves will approach an owner asking questions like what breed the dog is? Is it neutered? How old is it? Sometimes they will play with the dog and look at the address on the tag. Never allow a stranger to take a picture of your dog.

Never tie a dog up outside a shop. You might only be in there for two minutes, but it takes seconds for thieves to strike.

Avoid leaving your dog unattended in a car

Ensure your garden is secure and don’t leave your dog out unattended. Security lights and locks on gates can be a deterrent.

Check your property for marks that could be left by a thief. Some thieves draw symbols on walls, gates, etc to let others know the kind of dog that lives in the house and whether they are worth stealing. An example of symbols used are below - but, keep in mind, different groups of thieves will have different marks.

Dogs that are stolen to breed can’t breed if they've been neutered.

Should your dog be stolen, you will need to prove ownership – remember the chip doesn't legally prove your ownership of the dog. To help you prove ownership, take pictures of all angles, any unique markings and keep all paperwork (Micro-chip, vet records and pictures) together.

The only way change will happen is if we ask for it. Please do get in contact with your local MP and let them know that you want to see change happening. If you support the Stolen and Missing Pets Alliance manifesto, let your MP know, and ask what they are going to do about it.


  1. This is scary stuff . We never let our dogs out of our sight (especially since the snare incident ) The law needs changing drastically . I will be emailing Mr Useless Turner and barracking him about this ,I believe he should take note and listen to his constituents ,after all he is supposed to be our voice in parliament ...isn't he ?

    1. Yes, yes he is! I have also sent an email to him :)

  2. It's a big problem over here in the US. I once had a person follow me around a big pet shop, demanding to "buy" my Labrador, K, from me. It was the weirdest thing. But I left quickly and made sure the person didn't follow us home. Now, R gets so much admiration on the streets that we are scared to leave him alone in the car. He's a "classic Lab" with a gorgeously shaped head and a soft heart.

    Thanks for bringing this to everyone's attention!

    1. It's scary isn't it! I honestly don't know what I would do.

  3. I can't imagine my dog being stolen from me. My life would be broken without her. Thank you for high-lighting this awful offence and for indicating the sites where further information can be obtained. I often see dogs tied up outside shops and have always worried that the dogs were frightened by not having their owner with them; never, ever imagining that some unscrupulous person may be about to steal them.

    I find your blogs so informative without being condescending. Thank you!

    1. Thank you - wouldn't it be grand if we didn't have to worry about such things!

  4. Gosh that is scary stuff, especially the part about the stolen gundogs. I never realized that was a specific problem.

    1. Gun dog theft is getting more and more popular where fully trained dogs are being stolen to order. It really is a scare. Forewarned is forearmed they say. I will shout the loudest if it starts here!

  5. Pit Bully type dogs are very commonly stolen, and that scares me. Both pups are microchipped - I would love for compulsory scans at the vet's office to ensure proper ownership! They wear their tags, we never leave them outside unless we are home to supervise, etc.
    But I still worry, i'm super careful about what i'm doing with them. If they are left in the car it is only for a moment, I would be absolutely devastated and turn the city upside down if one or both of my dogs went missing.

    1. It's terrifying isn't it. Pitbulls are a banned breed in GB (which is such a shame as I see so many beautiful examples of the breed in rescues in the States), but the larger dogs are often the focus of theft over here for bait - which is just sickening isn't it. The only thing we can do is do our best to safeguard our fur babies - and, for the UK at least (I'm not sure of the laws overseas) that they change legislation to make dog theft a much more serious crime.

  6. More scaremogering! There is absolutely no evidence of either an increase dog thefts/dog baiting or these stupid paint marks left at properties in the UK, if anyone bothers to actually contact the local police and dog wardens when they read a panic message, which always inevitable begins My friends aunts neighbour.....they will find that 99% are unsubstantiated and the other 1% are genuine LOST dogs. Dogs have gone missing for years chasing off after rabbits/deer, just going off after a scent ( and yes even the most highly trained are capable of bolting suddenly!). But the basence until recent years of social media etc means that the only people who knew were those that read the lost posters people put up in thier area. As for people taking an interest in your dog, asking what breed it is, well duh if they were dog thieves they certainly make themselves aware of different breeds of dog i'm sure and come on, really in todays day and age not one person has actually managed to get a pic on thier phone/ipad etc etc of a single culprit. I have a mongrel who we are always being asked what breed she is as she is a remarkable looking dog, and by always i do mean at least once a week......OMG!!!! I must post it to facebook/twitter etc and let everyone know someone asked me about my dog!!!Get a life you people and stop these boy who cried wolf posts before the thieves really do steal your dog and nobody listens cause they are sick of hearing rumours and made up posts! I have friends who are dog wardens (yes real life human friends of mine who i know and speak with) who are sick to death of these 'warnings' that are making their jobs so much harder and taking time away from doing what they should be, helping genuine animals in need) Oh but please lets not forget all the poor kitty cats that the chinese steal to put in your takeaways.

    1. Anonymous, it is a real shame you wouldn't leave your real name. All of the article above is based on facts and statistics. Dog theft DOES happen and IS on the rise. And I don't really know why you're so passionate about saying its not! All information I have given has come from real investigation, the information from police has come from Freedom of Information requests and the pictures of the marks left was actually released by Devon Police as a public information report!

      We all know the difference between someone genuinely interested in the dog and its looks - and someone who is acting suspiciously. And it does happen.

      I know more that most that dogs can bolt. My dog was missing for six days and during that time I never believed she had been stolen. Or taken whilst wondering. When your property has been broken in to and the only thing taken is your dogs, then its dog theft and the facts are that this is on the rise.

      Yes, there are genuine lost dogs - and you can see many that go missing, believed lost (not stolen) on the doglost database.

      As a dog lover, I am just as passionate as you are about slating it, to highlight it.

    2. As a follow-up to your comment Anonymous, I checked with Dog Theft Action who have given me details of a survey completed by MoreThan - here were their findings:

      Pet Theft Census shows three cats and dogs are stolen in UK every single day - • UK’s first Pet Theft Census reveals that one in five cat and dog owners have experienced the theft of a pet in their lives. • Official police data shows the equivalent of at least three cats and dogs have been stolen every day this year. • Cats and dogs worth an estimated £671,000 stolen since the beginning of 2012.
      According to new research, thieves are stealing cats and dogs from all over the UK at an alarming rate. The UK’s first-ever Pet Theft Census reveals how one in every five (20%) cat and dog owners have experienced the theft of a pet during their lives, with 53% of those incidents occurring in the last 12 months alone.
      What is more, of all cat and dog thefts in Britain, over half (54%) of owners have sadly never seen their beloved pets again. The research, conducted with 4,865 cat and dog owners and 40 police forces, sought to catalogue in detail the full extent of pet theft across Great Britain.
      According to official police data from January 1st to October 31st this year [2013] 911 cats and dogs were reported stolen in the UK. That is the equivalent of three pets every day - and an estimated value of £311,000 And when coupled with the figures from 2012 it means that almost 2,000 cats and dogs have been stolen at a value of £671,000.
      However, these are only the pet thefts brought to the attention of authorities. The true figure could be much, much higher. Indeed, as the Pet Theft Census indicates, over one third (37%) of cat and dog thefts in the last 12 months were never actually reported to the police.
      Most wanted breeds
      Of the cats and dogs topping burglars’ most-wanted lists, it’s perhaps not a surprise that expensive pedigree breeds come top (61%). In addition, while the average value of each cat and dog stolen was £284 and £389 respectively, nearly a quarter (23%) of dogs and 15% of cats were originally bought by their owners for £500 or more.
      Colin Butcher, Senior Investigating Officer from The Pet Detectives, said: “We’re often asked what happens to all of the stolen pets in Britain; unfortunately there just isn’t one simple answer. We know that a large number are sold on to new owners either through free-ads or via one of the many internet sites. If the animals aren’t microchipped it’s extremely difficult to prove ownership and we would encourage pet owners to do this."
      Common tactics According to the findings of the Pet Theft Census, pets left in gardens were the most likely to be stolen (52%), followed by those at home alone (19%). Over half (51%) of owners that were the victims of a burglary believe the intruders broke in purely to take their pet. Looking at dogs specifically, brazen thefts while owners are out walking their dogs are commonplace (16%), while dogs tied up outside shops (7%) and left in cars (5%) are both easy targets for opportunistic thieves.
      Yet, despite it being one of the most popular methods for a criminal to steal a dog, nearly a quarter (22%) of all dog owners admit they will tie up their dog outside a shop or supermarket and leave them unattended. Of those, 30% do this every single week.
      Regional hotspots
      The research points to London (26%), the North West (23%) and the West Midlands (22%) as having the biggest problem with pet theft. This is a finding supported by the police data, with Greater Manchester, Staffordshire, West Yorkshire and County Durham experiencing more incidences of cat and dog thefts than any other regions. The issue of pet theft is not an easy one to solve, but microchipping can increase the chances of a missing pet being found. Of those polled, 37% admitted that their pets are not microchipped, giving a clear indication that more needs to be done to raise awareness of the benefits.

  7. I am fascinated by the symbols you display. How have you been able to find these out?

    1. Hi Helen - here's the source:

      There are reports that this is a hoax - however, I have researched sources such as the Twitter feed of police forces and other legitimate news agencies who confirm that symbols have been and are used.

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