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How to Protect Your Dog From Dognappers

There’s a surge in dog thieves attempting to cash in on our rising demand for quarantine companions. Here’s how to protect your dog from thieves and dognapping.

In 2003, 125 emaciated dogs and a single cat were extricated from Martin Creek Kennels in northeast Arkansas, where infamous dognapper C.C. Baird was conducting a large-scale and horrific dog dealing operation. He held a class B dealers license that allowed him to sell animals to medical research laboratories, and after sending an undercover investigator into Martin Creek Kennels, animal rights group Last Chance For Animals revealed that Baird had been purchasing dogs from an extensive network of dognappers, then flipping them for profit. Estimates suggest that he sold more than 3,000 dogs a year, many of which were stolen.

This is every pet owner’s worst nightmare, and I personally needed to cuddle up next to my dog immediately after writing all that. The upside is that the eventual sentencing of Baird set a precedent for curbing dognapping in America. “Research facilities stopped buying animals from Class B dealers, known as random source dealers, because of the attention that was brought to this issue,” says Kevin Mercuri of Last Chance for Animals. The downside is that dognapping is still on the rise. In fact, the U.K. has seen a sudden surge in dog thefts since the start of lockdown, with dog thieves marking houses to indicate which have pooches worth stealing. This increase in dognapping is believed to be motivated by a greater demand for companions in quarantine and soaring prices for dogs and puppies.

Knowing all of this, it would be fair to say that I’m freaking out, my dog is a good boy, nothing bad can ever happen to him, fuck dognappers, and how can I protect him from these disgusting scumbags? If you’re also panicking, here’s everything you need to know about dognapping and how to protect your dog from thieves.

How worried should I really be about someone stealing my dog?

That mostly depends on how cautious you are. “According to the American Kennel Club, approximately two million dogs are stolen per year in the U.S.,” says Melanie Monteiro, author of The Safe Dog Handbook. “But I believe that as long as dog owners understand the issue and take common-sense precautions to prevent theft, they shouldn’t have to worry.”

Are some dogs more likely to be stolen than others?

Yeah, definitely. “Although any dog can potentially be a target for theft for a variety of reasons, purebred puppies — especially toy breeds and other expensive or current, trendy breeds — are those we tend to hear about the most, as they’re considered ‘high value’ dogs that can be resold for profit,” Monteiro explains. “Some thieves might also be motivated by the chance of receiving a reward for ‘finding’ a lost dog.” As for specific breeds, Mercuri names malteses, chihuahuas and Yorkshire terriers, the last of which is the “most stolen dog breed in the U.S.”

How can I keep my dog safe from dognappers?

In general, Mercuri says, “Consider your dog to be a small child, and never leave them unattended. It doesn’t take much for a dognapper to get into a car, climb over a short fence or untie a leash that was attached to a parking meter.”

Here are a few more specific suggestions for how to protect your dog from thieves…

  • Properly Identify Your Dog: “Keep your dog’s ID tags and microchip information up-to-date,” says Monteiro. “If you move or if any of your contact information or alternates’ contact information changes, you should update that with your dog’s microchip company right away.” While microchips don’t work like a GPS tracking device, if a thief or unaware buyer brings your dog to a shelter, veterinarian or other recovering organization, the chip will eventually lead them back to you.
  • Don’t Leave Your Dog Unattended in the Yard: “If you leave your dog at home during the day — or your dog has access to the yard through a doggie door — be sure to install locks on gates, lock your doors and make use of security cameras,” says Monteiro.
  • Spay or Neuter Your Dog: Dognappers are usually on the lookout for dogs who haven’t been spayed or neutered, because they can be sold for a high price to puppy mills or backyard breeders.
  • Leave Your Dog at Home: While it may be fun to take your dog down to the coffee shop, if that means you have to leave them alone in the car or tie them up out front, they’re better off at home. “If pet owners aren’t planning to visit pet-friendly establishments while out running errands, they should ideally leave their dog at home,” says a spokesperson for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. “Leaving a dog unattended could put the pet’s safety at risk.”
  • Use a Leash: Agnes Sibal of Los Angeles Animal Services says, “Making sure your dog is on a leash, which is the law in the City of Los Angeles, when you take him or her for a walk or hike, and also keeping your pet inside your home are other ways to ensure your pets stay safe.”
  • Maintain Proper Documentation: “Keep current photos and any proof-of-ownership documentation, whether it’s from a breeder, the rescue organization or animal shelter,” says Monteiro. “I personally keep all my dog’s important information in my phone with the app Penster Docs, which is designed to store vet records, documents and photos, and includes GPS listings of the nearest vets and other important pet services.”

What should I do if my dog was already stolen?

You should start by calling the police, but understand that a stolen pet is probably low on their priority list — many states don’t even have specific stolen pet laws, and dogs are typically viewed as personal property in the eyes of the law. Therefore, you may have to do most of your own investigative work, which should include canvassing your area, passing out flyers and searching places like Craigslist for ads from possible dog flippers.

But overall, prevention is your best bet.

Now I must get back to cuddling with my dog and reassuring him of his safety.