Two million dogs are stolen each year and about 10% are returned home, according to Petfinder.com. We call this dognapping — the crime of taking a dog from his owner, derived from the term kidnapping.
Throughout the world, pets are stolen for a variety of reasons, like being resold as a companion pet, to collecting rewards from distressed owners or for fighting in dogfights, just to name a few. In the last two and half years, there has been an increase in dog thefts in order to make quick money by criminals looking to take advantage of the increased demand for canine companionship during the pandemic.
What are the top dogs stolen and from where?
According to the American Kennel Club Vice-President of Public Relations, Brandi Hunter-Munden, some of the top stolen dogs in the Unites States are:
- Yorkshire Terriers
- Boston Terriers
- English Bulldogs
- Pit Bulls
- French Bulldogs
Brandi notes that in past years, unsuspecting owners would leave dogs in their yards for a few minutes for them to “do their business” or tether their pets outside a store to run a quick errand. “Now, we see many dogs are stolen from inside homes, yards and cars as well as being yanked from their owners on the streets throughout the country,” she says.
Furthermore, Brandi clarifies that “many of these breeds are stolen directly from owners because they are small, portable, docile and don’t put up a fuss when snatched from their owners.”
Who are the victims of dog theft?
Pet owners are not the only victims of pet theft. Dog breeders are prime candidates, too. For breeders like Louisiana’s Patricia Sosa, there is a waiting list for her limited supply of carefully bred French Bulldog puppies. In her 30-plus year love affair with the breed, she only had one person steal a dog by writing a bad check, almost 15 years ago.
“But in the last few years, since many French Bulldogs have been stolen from pet owners and breeders, I have had to take serious, security precautions,” Patricia says. She carefully pre-screens candidates via phone and checks references before she invites potential dog owners to her home to view puppies.
“I never give them my address until the last possible minute in order to protect myself, my home and my puppies,” she explains. Additionally, before inviting potential dog owners into her home, she explains to them that she has a security system and network of cameras covering her home, kennels and the rest of the property. Lastly, she tells them that she has a guard dog — a Doberman that will be present while they are visiting her premises. “Armed with this information, they can make the decision to come to my kennel,” she says.
But breeders are not the only ones to have dogs stolen from them. Many pet stores throughout the country have experienced dog thefts since the pandemic. In 2021, after two women entered a Texas pet store and asked to see a French Bulldog, the store complied. Once the dog was in their hands, the two immediately ran out the door. Store employees quickly reported the incident and description of the car to the police. Soon after, the officers found the women allegedly attempting to reattach the license plate they had removed in preparation for the heist.
Do criminal statutes and penalties vary regarding K9 theft?
Dogs, and other companion animals, are currently classed as “property” in theft sentencing. As a result, offenders who steal dogs are given similar sentences to those who steal inanimate objects. Unfortunately, most states consider pet theft a misdemeanor, and the penalties include small fines and little-to-no jail time.
Only around 15 states address dog theft in their criminal codes. While criminal charges and penalties do vary from state to state, California and Louisiana impose charges and penalties that are based on the monetary value of the stolen dogs. However, Virginia, Louisiana, Oklahoma, New York and Mississippi have severe criminal statutes. In these states, dog theft is a felony with six months to 10 years of jail time. Additionally, fines commence at $200 and can equate up to three times the value of the stolen animal, but not exceeding $500,000. Quite a wide range, too!
Animal advocates agree that penalties for dog theft should be more severe than that of stealing inanimate, non-living property. Recent studies and case law have acknowledged that the animal-human bond is unique, and the implications of labeling a dog property is antiquated.
How can dog lovers help?
The Animal Legal Defense Fund, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, is an animal law advocacy organization whose stated mission is to protect the lives and advance the interests of animals through the legal system. The organization encourages animal lovers to take action by lobbying local, state and government representatives and agencies to change laws to protect animals.
If you would like to help enact more state criminal statutes, adopt harsher measures and higher penalties against dog theft, organize and meet with like-minded dog owners and work with animal rights organizations to change pet theft laws.
One last thing: If you have had your pet stolen, be patient, be diligent, be active and don’t give up. He might be returned to you.
How to prevent dog theft
There are steps you can take to ensure you and your dog are not a target for dognapping.
- Microchip your dog, register the microchip with the microchip agency and keep the information updated.
- Have your dog wear a collar with your phone number and ID tag with relevant and current information, like your email address and the word “Reward.”
- Have your dog wear a GPS tracker that can track your dog in real time to locate his whereabouts.
- Do not leave breed doormats or hang breed flags outside your home, as this serves as an advertisement for thieves.
- Keep all doors locked and windows closed when you are not home. Install cameras in your home focusing on key entry and exit points.
- Do not leave your dog unattended outside in your yard, in your car or tied up outside a store.
- Be cautious of strangers who approach you to talk about your dog. Do not give them any information about where you live, how often you walk your dog or your dog’s name.
- Try to walk dogs in daylight hours, slightly varying the time. Thieves look for consistent dog-walking behavior.
- Notice your environment. Watch for parked cars in your area and pay attention to pedestrians, who just don’t seem “to fit.”
- Keep a watchful eye on your
dog in the dog park and don’t walk your dog off-leash in your neighborhood.
What to do if your dog is stolen
If dognapping does happen to you, take these steps immediately.
- Security experts agree that if your dog is stolen, do not try to chase the assailants or jump in the car with them because you can get badly injured or even shot.
- Write down as much as you can remember about the thief or thieves and the getaway car.
- Call the police and file a report with as much detailed information as you can remember.
- Call your microchip company so that people in your area will receive a lost pet alert and be on the lookout.
- Reach out to local missing pets and neighborhood groups on social media. Post a picture of your pet and describe him thoroughly. Post on your own social feed to get the word out, too!
- Make a flyer including face and body shots of your pet, offering a reward for information leading to his safe recovery. Do not indicate that he was stolen, as there is a possibility the thief may want to return him and avoid prosecution. Post flyers in the area, including local dog parks or where large groups of people congregate.
- Contact the local veterinary offices, groomers, doggie daycares, boarding facilities and shelters, as the thieves might want to drop him there.
- Write a letter to local media outlets (newspapers, radio and TV) including a picture and full description of your dog and an explanation of what happened. Give them a heartfelt story about what your dog means to you. If you find out that other dogs in your residential area have been stolen, include that. This can prompt them to report your story as well as a crime wave of dognapping so residents will be on the lookout for your dogs — and to be careful with their own.
- Beware of scammers who might call you for the reward or ask for money to return your dog.
- Regularly review online postings for pet adoptions and pet sales.
- Don’t give up!
Why some pups are dognapped more than others
Some of the contributing factors as to why some dogs are stolen more than others is that the desirable breeds of today are rare, trendy and difficult to get one’s hands on, especially the French Bulldog — a breed that is a primary candidate for theft.
“Frenchies have been become trendy due to their social media presence, especially on Instagram, as well as their breed’s representation, which can be found on sheets, sweaters, phone cases and in ad campaigns,” says Brandi Hunter-Munden, AKC vice president of public relations.
Another contributing factor to the breed’s popularity is that many French Bulldogs are owned by notable celebrities like Lady Gaga (who were famously and violently dognapped in 2021), Dwayne Johnson, Leonardo DiCaprio, Martha Stewart, Snoop Dogg, Madonna and Reese Witherspoon. And, with a hefty price tag — starting at $4K and up, there is an implied elite status from owning this breed.
In the case of French Bulldogs, the demand outweighs the supply and that must be figured into the reason why the breed is a prime contender for being stolen. French Bulldogs have smaller litters, offering a limited supply for such a voracious demand.