Are you feeling uncertain about the level of dog thefts because of all the recent news and social media coverage? You may benefit from reading this blog, which will provide you with some facts and options around the current situation.
As a dog carer, I'm guessing you'll probably see your dog as a member of your family, some people view their dog as their baby. Your dog relies on you for all their needs and that vulnerability can deepen your bond with your dog.
Current news and social media reports mean that you may be feeling a little scared about dog theft.
I've created a few pointers to help provide clarity and advice . As an ex police officer, working in crime prevention for many years and now caring for dog carer's experiencing loss, as a pet bereavement counsellor, I'm considering this from a few angles.
There are crime figures, social media/news reports, there's safety advice and advice around what to do if it happens to you. Are thefts being exaggerated or are crime statistics underplaying the true situation?
As a carer, you simply want to know what is happening. You love your dog and need to have knowledge to know what to do. The points I'm sharing show you need awareness of this problem, you may need to adapt your behaviour slightly but you probably don't need to be very worried, as this crime is still relatively rare compared to other crimes.
So, what is the true picture of dog theft?
I live in Cheshire and Cheshire is approximately 946 sq miles with a population of around 1 million. I contacted the Police and Crime Commissioner's Office and on 5 March 2021 they replied with these figures for dog theft for the whole of Cheshire:
2019 – 11
2020 – 15
2021 – 3
Dog thefts including theft as part of burglary/theft from person/robbery
The computer system – crime recording
This is where the problem lies with the crime figures. Because dog theft isn't a specific crime, a dog will be listed simply as property within a crime. There is a property field within the crime report and the dog will be recorded there.
With a bike, for example, they'd ask for a frame number as it's unique and traceable. Quite often though, people don't have that number to hand and the actual bike details are recorded instead. When bikes are found, it can be difficult to return the bike without any specific numbers and also the search capacity within the computer system often can't fully pick up details of all bikes taken.
A dog has a microchip (by law now) but when found, a dog doesn't have to have the microchip scanned by law. It's up to the agency finding to decide whether or not they are able to scan at that point, so you may ask – what is the point of scanning them in the first place if there is no legal duty to check the microchip? There's a current campaign to change this!
So, even if a dog is recorded in the property field, will every police system (and they don't all use one system) pick up the details of every dog stolen when they're looking at the size of pet theft crime?
From Cheshire – I've been told yes, they certainly do, but those figures seem pretty low if dog theft is a growing crime.
The amazing organisation Doglost.co.uk who are an excellent source of information and help have pointed out other issues with the crime figures.
It can be very difficult to get a probable theft recorded as a crime at all!
If your dog is in a secure garden, with the bolt firmly closed and it's a secure garden your dog has never escaped before, you suddenly discover the gate open and your dog missing – what would you expect the police to do? Quite often, the police will say unless you've actually seen someone take your dog, it will be reported as a missing dog.
Not enough evidence of crime? The gate bolt has been pulled back, you feel your dog could not have done it and it's never happened before.How would you feel? It could be argued that the dog could have banged against the gate causing the bolt to move and the gate to open, or the wind could have rattled the gate -causing the same.
Cases such as these may not be recorded as crime and if it's not a crime it will not be actively investigated by the police!
Doglost take all reports of dogs missing and state that most dogs taken are taken from gardens. If the dog was simply missing and had just got out, why is it then very rare for these dogs to be roaming the streets and simply found in local neighbourhoods?
It's a paradox because police aim resources at need. In my police time the focus was burglaries and robberies and lots of funding was directed at those crimes. If the true situation is greater, but the crime stats don't reflect that, funding will not be directed at this crime, especially as it isn't even a designated crime yet. As police forces are beginning to talk openly about this growing crime, it appears that the police themselves are recognising the futility of the current situation.
I hope you don't experience it, but if you do, please push for the report to be recorded as a crime. If you believe it definitely is theft, you need to be very vocal as to why.
There are some powerful voices now fighting for a specific dog theft crime. The Stolen and Missing Pets Alliance (SAMPA), Doglost, Harvey's Army are involved in discussions continually around this and prominent figures such as the MP Ian Duncan Smith are pushing for a change in the law and approach to dog theft. Rachel Nolan, the Assistant Chief Constable of Essex police was recently encouraging anyone who'd experienced dog theft to report it.
There is an air of change and it will help to keep the momentum going.
Some forces are leading the way on prevention, including Hertfordshire, Derbyshire, Essex and Thames Valley. They are also promoting sharing information with doglost so that details of dogs can be recorded in one central place. That information is essential in trying to get dogs back to their owners in the event of any problems with microchips.
Hertfordshire have created an excellent set of 2 posters which highlights lots of practical advice. Issues such as:
All useful advice but then we need to consider what happens if you are threatened whilst out with your dog...
Laura Stone of Amity Pet Care (amitypetcare.co.uk) has given excellent advice in her blog – keeping safe whilst walking. She has her own dog care business and is also a member of a martial arts group.
Her advice is:
Good, reliable advice from the the collective voice of Laura's martial arts group:
Laura advises looking a basic self defence online such sites as youtube or look for any online classes or face to face classes when covid restrictions allow.
This can work, several years ago whilst walking my dogs, I stopped an attack on a young male. He suddenly was encircled and was totally unaware until the 3 males were threatening him; he was wearing headphones and was looking down.
I stood well back, shouted at the males that I was watching their every move and that I'd step out into the road and stop the traffic if they continued. As it was by a busy road, they stopped, shouted some abuse at me and then left. I'm a very short and petite person but making noise and letting them know I'd seen them stopped them hurting the young male.
Your collective voice can be so helpful to change things.
Always report it to the police. This would no doubt be a very difficult and emotional time for you. If you feel it is a theft, persist in that view with the police. Insist they create a crime. If they say something other could have happened eg such as the wind blew the gate open and that doesn't usually happen with your gate – be assertive.
I'm sure you'd want the theft of your dog to be actively investigated. If recorded as a missing dog this will not happen and the recovery of your dog will be more down to chance than proactive action by the police.
The following are all helpful things to do, it may be difficult if you're distraught but you can enlist the help of those around you to support you in this. There are many helpful people in local dog communities only to willing to help a carer who's had their dog taken or their dog is missing.
You need to be proactive if your dog is missing or stolen – time is of the essence in information sharing.
Dog theft is horrific, feeling more like kidnap of someone you love. You can feel helpless, you cannot focus on normal day to day activities and you can feel stuck in the hopelessness of having not control over the situation.
There is hope and there is help. Hope because so many people are looking to change the current situation. Help because people will understand the impact on you, it is the worst fear for many dog carers.
As a counsellor, I'm going to be offering group therapy for people who've experienced theft or their animal's missing. This is an affordable alternative for those who can not afford 1-1 therapy or for those who'd benefit from sharing their experiences with others in the same situation.
I personally experienced the loss of my rescue dog, years before social media existed. I did most of the above, my dog was missing, not stolen. 3 days after he went missing, I was desperate. I'd already shared his details with local dogs homes but I wanted to check them personally. I drove into Manchester dogs home and at the exact moment I was parking, my dog was being lifted out of the dog warden's van! An amazing coincidence. What were the chances of that?!!
There is always hope and there are many good news stories on social media as well as worrying stories. Some of the stories on social media are exaggerated, only recently one near me involved a carer walking her dogs and she was approached from behind and someone took her dogs. 2 days later, after attempts to investigate by the police and local community wishing to assist – no-one came forward to report this crime and no-one reported actually witnessing it. It appeared to be a rumour.
If you're anxious about the current situation and need further support, if you've lost your pet and you're struggling to deal with it you can always contact me to see how I can help. I'm a qualified pet bereavement counsellor, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or use my contact form on my website www.lindowcounselling.co.uk and I shall get back to you to let you know how I can help.
Stay safe, you may need to be more alert and aware of your surroundings whilst out and about with your dog. Dog theft is still relatively rare in relation to other crimes and collectively, if we look out for each other, push for change, hopefully our carefree and mindful walks with our dogs will return in the very near future. Slight changes in your awareness will help to keep you and your dog safe.