You've done it a thousand times--left your dog in your parked car for a quick errand, or tethered to that tree in your front yard to get some fresh air. This time when you return to retrieve her, your pet is gone. You have become the victim of pet theft, which occurs with increasing frequency as the economy fluctuates and the prospects of profiting from stealing a pet becomes more lucrative.
Common reasons pets are stolen
- The most common victims of pet theft are purebred dogs. Their pedigree has street value that can fetch thousands of dollars with little effort from or expense to the dog napper. Stolen purebred dogs, especially toys, puppies, and designer breeds such as Labradoodles, are sold for half the asking price of a dog from a legitimate breeder.
- Pets may be sold and shipped to puppy mills to be used for breeding (this is why it is essential to have your pet spayed or neutered).
- Thieves may steal animals and wait for a sizable reward to be posted, then collect the money from unwittingly gracious guardians.
- Stolen pets might be used as "bait dogs" to train fighting dogs. These breeds are commonly German Shepherds, Doberman Pinschers and American Pit Bull Terriers.
- Some people sell stolen and lost animals for research and veterinary institutions that use dogs and cats for testing and biomedical experimentation. These groups are often referred to as Class B dealers. They are brokers who acquire their animals through flea markets, newspaper adds, and other less savory sources.
How to protect pets
- Keep your pet indoors, especially when you are not at home.
- Do not let your pet, even your cat, roam freely, unsupervised in your neighborhood.
- Keep your dog on a leash when you go for a walk.
- Properly identify your cats and dogs. Keep a collar and up-to-date ID tag and license on the collar, so he can quickly be reunited with you if he is lost. Give your pet additional security with a microchip.
- Spay or neuter your animal. This will lower his desire to roam and medical laboratories often will not accept animals who have been altered. PAWS offers low-cost spay/neuter surgeries for qualified low-income individuals. We also maintain a list of other low-cost spay/neuter clinics in the Puget Sound.
- Do not use "free to good home ads" when looking for a new home for your pet. Do not place your pet in a new home without checking the new guardian's references, visiting the premises, or having the new guardians sign a pet adoption contract. (See more information on finding a new home for your pet.)
- Never give animals away for free. Even if you charge a minimal adoption fee of $25, you'll be more likely to deter those who are trying to scam you or harm the animal.
- When returning a stray animal to his rightful guardian, request proof of ownership, including photos of the animal, vet records, and/or licensing papers.
- Be aware of strangers in the neighborhood, and keep a close eye on what is happening in your community. If you suspect an animal scam is taking place, inform your neighbors immediately. Report anything suspicious to the police.
If you think your pet is stolen
Take action immediately! Call your local police, sheriff, and/or animal control and file a report. Be proactive and persistent.
- Make a flier with your pet's name, color, markings, and breed. Include the location where your pet was last seen, and a contact or 24-hour phone/message number. Noting that your animal needs medical attention on the lost animal flyer can solicit a more diligent response from neighbors who may encounter your animal. It can also deter somebody who may be inclined to keep your animal.
- Contact your local shelters and post flyers on their community boards, checking back to make sure they remain posted. Leave the flier with (or fax it to) local pet stores, post offices, veterinary offices, breed rescue groups, or dog parks. Anywhere dog or cat guardians are likely to congregate is a good place to network and get the word out about your missing companion animal. Read more about finding your lost pet.
- Monitor pets for sale or pet adoption ads in newspapers or online, checking carefully for descriptions that match your animal. This is where pet thieves are looking to profit from stealing your animal.
- Walk around and call your pet's name in the area she was last seen. This is especially useful during the evening hours when the white noise of traffic has diminished. There is a chance your pet may hear you and respond with barking.
- If you believe you have located your pet and the person who stole him, do not approach the person without first contacting your local law enforcement or animal control officer. Your pet might be removed from the premises or relocated before you can get to him.
- If somebody claims they have found your lost animal, ask specific questions to ensure the animal is yours - particularly if you are offering a reward.
- Don't give up hope. Continue to post flyers, monitor websites, and check newspaper ads. Your pet may end up with caring people who might realize they are in possession of a stolen pet, and they may return him to you.
More information on lost or stolen pets
In Defense of Animals
Last Chance for Animals
USDA Missing Pets Network