Are you Pet Theft Aware?
It's a really sad sign of the times we live in that we even need to be talking about pet theft, but sadly it's a growing issue, particularly with the dog ownership boom that has arisen in the last year of lockdown, with many people now working from home or much more flexibly than they were able to in the past. As an example, The Kennel Club website states that dog theft increased in the Midlands by 65% during lockdown.
Over 2000 dogs are stolen each year in the UK, yet only 5% of pet theft cases result in a conviction. The law sees your dog as no different to your mobile phone, and therefore the penalties are relatively lenient even if your case is reported and successfully prosecuted. Following a petition with 300,000 signatures, the issue of pet theft was debated in Parliament in October, and Home Secretary Priti Patel has announced she is looking at options to introduce tougher measures. We hope this will result in the recognition of pet theft as a specific crime with harsher sentences than those currently applicable.
Pet Theft Awareness Week is 14th - 21st March 2021, and therefore it seems appropriate to look at some of the precautions you can take to protect yourselves and your pets.
None of us like to think that we could one day in a position where our dog has been stolen from us, but it's important to consider this as a possibility and make preparations in case the worst should happen.
- Make sure your microchip details are up to date AND make sure your dog's chip is still present (they can move or disappear over time). Make it part of your routine to ask your vet to check for the chip each time you visit
- Make sure you have a note of the microchip number that you can access easily if you need it
- Take photos. I know you're doing this anyway - but make sure you have photos of your dog from all different angles showing their markings, and any distinguishing or unique features they may have. It's also important to take photos WITH your dog so that you can prove ownership
- Practise with your phone - know how to access the camera / video and dial 999 quickly if you need to - it's not as easy as you think.
NB: For obvious reasons, don't actually dial 999 unless it's an emergency, but you can check if there's a way to do it without unlocking our screen
BE SOCIAL MEDIA SAFE
We all want to share cute photos of our dogs online, but we do have to be mindful of how multiple bits of information we share without thinking could be telling thieves exactly where to get access to our dogs.
- Never share your address details online
- Think before "checking in" to places - if you check in at your local country park, you're telling everyone where you walk your dog. It's easy for thieves to spot a pattern, so you should vary routines and don't check in if you can help it
- Try not to post photos while you're doing something e.g. a photo of your dog while you're at the park with them. Post it at a different time or days later and don't specify the location, to make it harder for thieves to identify a pattern
- Keep your security settings as high as possible. It's not foolproof, but the higher your settings, the safer you are.
- Think about what other information you're sharing online. It is easy for thieves to put multiple bits of information together to identify your location and routines
- Be wary of who you accept friend requests from and don't "friend" anyone you don't know in real life. If you get a request from someone you think you're already "friends" with, ask them before accepting as their account may have been cloned
BE SAFE AT HOME
We all like to think we're safe at home, but 52% of thefts are from people's gardens, which is a very frightening statistic!!
- Don't leave your dog alone in the garden, even if it is secure. It only takes a second for someone to hop over the fence and steal your dog
- Make sure you keep doors and windows locked when you're going out and your dog is left at home and keep curtains and blinds shut so that they can't look through the window and see your dog
- Make sure your doors are locked when you're at home - yes even the back door as it's easy for someone to hop over the fence!
- Don't let your dog go the front door with you. It takes no time at all for a thieve to steal them when you open the door - instead put them in another room or behind a stairgate.
- Be aware of signs outside your property that dogs are present. Put toys away and take down the "A Chihuahua and it's human live here" sign from your front gate. You want to be an inconspicuous as possible.
BE SAFE OUT AND ABOUT
We don't want to be frightened to go out and about with our dogs. Part of the enjoyment of sharing your life with a dog is being able to get out and explore new places. Being aware and alert goes a long way to preventing dog theft when you are out with your dog
- Vary your routines. Someone who goes out at different times and to lots of different places is much more difficult to target. It's easy for thieves to choose you as their victim if you follow the same routine all the time
- Keep your phone in your pocket. If you're on your phone, you're distracted and not paying attention to what's going on around you, making you an easier target.
- DON'T put your phone in your bag. You want easy access to it if you need it in an emergency
- Keep looking and be aware of who is around you, where they are walking and where you are. Make sure you're looking in all directions and stick to busy areas if you're on your own
- Buddy up with a friend, particularly if you are walking in more remote areas where there are fewer people around BUT don't let your conversations stop you from being aware of your surroundings
- NEVER leave your dog tied up outside a shop. It literally takes ONE minute for them to be stolen and it's asking for trouble
- Train, train, train. A solid recall could be the difference between your dog running straight back to you or being stolen, if it is approached by a would-be thief when off-lead. Other skills such as barking on cue, a send away or a go behind can also be deterrents. Thieves want the easy steal, so if you make your dog noisy and difficult, they are more likely to give up
IF YOU'RE APPROACHED
If someone starts asking questions about your dog, BE SUSPICIOUS. It could be, and probably is completely innocent, but it's better to be safe than sorry
- Don't engage with them or let them engage with your dog - it's easy to unclip a lead and get your dog away from you
- Get your phone out and start filming or take photos - this is often a good deterrent
- Don't let them corner you and move towards busy, populated areas as quickly as you can
- Remember all you can about their description, any distinguishing features and any vehicle they are driving
- REPORT IT! You might feel like you're making a mountain out of a molehill and it may be completely innocent, but the police would rather have a report that turns out to be innocent than a theft which could have been prevented by earlier reported attempts
IF THE WORST HAPPENS
If the worst happens, you're going to be absolutely distraught, but there are things you need to make sure you do for the best chance of your dog returning home safe and sound.
- Report it to the police. Pet Theft is a crime and should always be reported with as much detail as possible. Make sure you give them your dog's microchip number, any distinguishing marks and the photos to help them identify it
- Make sure you get a crime number. This ensures it is logged as a crime and not just an incident, and you can follow it up more easily at a later date
- Tell the microchip company and give them the crime number. They can flag your dog as stolen so that it notifies anyone who scans the dog in future
- Tell the dog warden, local vets and rescue centres. It's possible your dog could end up with them, even if stolen, so make sure they have a detailed description
- Put up posters to raise awareness and contact lost dog sites to make them aware. It is debatable whether you should offer a reward - some unscrupulous people may steal your dog, wait for the reward to be offered and then "claim" the reward when they return it for you
Let's hope it never happens, but making sure you're Pet Theft Aware is the best way to keep you and your dog safe.