Around 3.2 million UK households have bought an animal companion since the pandemic began, according to pet population figures from the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association (PFMA). As a result, prices of puppies, in particular, have soared and, sadly, dog thefts have seen a massive spike.
Charity DogLost has recorded a 250 per cent increase in dognappings from March 2020 to March 2021, its senior police liaison coordinator, Wayne May, tells The Independent.
An RSPCA spokesperson tells The Independent that the organisation believes that a rise in pet thefts could be the result of “the surging popularity, and value, of fashionable and ‘designer’ breeds”.
A spokesperson says: “It’s really concerning to see an increase in dog theft within certain areas of the UK and we’d urge anyone who believed their pooch has been taken to report the incident to police immediately.”
Unlike prior to the pandemic, May says thefts now appear to be less opportunistic and more likely to be the work of organised crime groups.
May believes that many thieves are now stealing dogs indiscriminately – rather than looking for specific breeds – and then asking for money via ransoms or returning them to collect rewards offered by owners.
Currently, pets are classed as “property” under the Theft Act and many campaigners, including May, are lobbying for penalties for dognappers to be tougher.
“At the moment, dog theft is treated exactly the same as you having your mountain bike stolen,” says May. “We are dealing with animals that are living and breathing – and we know they have feelings. Plus, a dog means a lot more to a family than a push bike.”
The RSPCA tells The Independent that owners need to take “extra precautions” to protect their dog from criminals. Here, we share the organisation’s tips, along with advice from May based on his experience of investigating dog thefts.
Vary your walks
May suggests not repeating the same routes when walking your dog: “Go somewhere different every day,” he advises. “A lot of people will come out the front door, turn right and go on the same path.”
As people are allowed to meet outdoors, he also recommends taking walks with other owners, while observing social distancing.
Microchip your pet (including cats)
The RSPCA emphasises the importance of microchipping pets, and of keeping contact details current.
A spokesperson says: “We’d urge all dog owners to take extra precautions to protect their pooches from thieves by neutering their pets, ensuring they are microchipped with up-to-date contact details registered, ensuring they wear a collar with contact details embroidered or an engraved ID tag.”
If you suspect your pet has been stolen, the organisation recommends immediately contacting the police and letting the microchip company know so your pet can be registered as stolen. You should also reach out to local rescue groups, dog walkers and vets.
While only dogs have to be microchipped by law, the RSPCA advises microchipping cats too. “Microchipping is a very easy procedure,” its spokesperson says. “It involves a tiny microchip being quickly and simply inserted under the animal’s skin and this then gives the pet their own unique code.”
“Thousands of pets are lost and stolen every year and many are never reunited with their owners but microchipping can help to change that. While collars and tags can get caught or removed – microchipping identifies pets permanently and effectively.”
Don’t leave dogs alone
May advises planning your time carefully so that you don’t need to go to the shops when your dog is with you, and they aren’t left alone outside the store. Many dogs are also stolen after being left in cars, he adds.
The RSPCA recommends ensuring your garden is secure and that all gates are locked, as well as making sure your dog doesn’t stray too far from you if off the lead during a walk.
Tighten security for outdoor-dwelling dogs
“If you keep your dogs outside – in kennels, for example – upgrade your lighting and your CCTV,” says May. “Also, look at bringing the dogs closer to your residential property, not in kennels at the bottom of the garden.”
Don’t specify a reward amount
If you do decide to offer a reward, May recommends using the term “finder’s fee” and not specifying an amount.
He suggests: “If a member of the public on social media contacts you and says: ‘How much is the reward?’, all you have to do is reply: ‘I will disclose that to the finder of my dog.’”