A spate of dognapping in recent months has led to growing numbers of owners buying lockable, steel-core collars and leads that cannot be severed by bolt cutters as they walk their pets.
Dog theft has risen as animals available to buy have become scarcer since the pandemic began. The average cost of a puppy doubled to nearly £1,900 last year, and some breeds are worth more than £6,000.
Last week Lady Gaga’s dog walker was shot in the chest in Los Angeles and robbed of the singer’s two French bulldogs. Meanwhile, the charity DogLost says that the number of dogs stolen in the UK more than doubled last year.
British pet owners are now taking elaborate measures to avoid losing their dogs, including putting up higher garden fences, buying GPS trackers and using devices such as Petloc, a lead with two combination locks (attaching it to the collar at one end and a wristband or belt at the other) and comprised of a steel cable inside a tough plastic cover.
Yarah David, who founded the company behind Petloc, reports a fourfold increase in sales of the £50 lead so far this year.
“I can’t believe how many calls we’ve had over the last three or four weeks,” she said. “It’s horrifying. I designed the lead to stop dogs being taken from cars or outside shops. Now they’re being stolen from people who are out walking. I’m being asked, ‘what do I do if they yank the lead out of my hand?’”
Her customers are trying to avoid this happening by locking the lead to their own bodies, either using a belt or a bicycle harness to secure one of the combination locks, David said. The lead can only be cut with bolt cutters, she added.
David is now working with a tracking company to create a version of Petloc with a GPS tracker in the collar.
“It’s all word of mouth,” she said. “I don’t advertise – we’re not even on social media. I’m an interior designer and I only designed this because there was nothing else available.”
Dognapping, she says, is “ruining people’s lives because they worry about simply going out to walk their dogs. For people it has happened to, it’s years of trauma.”
Owners offer ever larger “rewards” for their pets’ return. Lady Gaga offered $500,000 for Koji and Gustav, taken by robbers after a struggle with her walker, Ryan Fischer. The dogs were returned on Friday evening when a woman walked into a Los Angeles police station with them. Police said the woman “appeared to be uninvolved”.
Some pet owners believe offering large rewards may encourage copycat dog thefts.
Campaigners including the Stolen and Missing Pets Alliance have called for pet theft to be made a specific offence, with stiffer punishment than for the theft of property. The UK government has said it is looking at changing the law.
There are also calls to reform the current system of pet microchipping to improve the chances of reuniting stolen pets with their owners. Although all dogs must be implanted with a microchip, there are at least 14 different microchip registration systems, according to the British Veterinary Association’s senior vice-president, Daniella Dos Santos.
“It’s possible to register on two separate databases,” she said. “We want there to be a single point of entry.” Pet owners often do not update their details if they move house, she added.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs recently held a consultation about changing the rules around microchipping.