This is not a new phenomena but has become more widespread in recent years.
You may think that this is only an opportunist crime and only relevant to owners of valuable pedigree dogs but you would be mistaken on both counts.
This is sometimes a crime of opportunity but the people who commit such crimes are now very organised and know how to tempt a friendly dog into a situation where they can steal it.
They often work in gangs and move from area to area so they don't attract too much attention from the Police.
They prefer to steal pedigree breeds to sell as these have a higher value but will steal any breed to ransom as they depend on the dog owners affection for their dog to extract a higher price.
They may use threats of torture or death to persuade owners to pay up and keep quiet.
Sometimes these threats are carried out.
You don't have to be rich or a celebrity for you and your dog to become a victim of a ransom attempt - these thieves are very aware that people will pay hundreds of pounds to get their dog back safe and sound.
They are aware that even people on low incomes will be prepared to sell goods or take out loans to raise a ransom.
The Police are sometimes reluctant to get involved in such matters unless there is clear evidence that a dog is stolen.
Although dogs are 'property' and the laws of theft apply, dogs can wander off themselves so the fact that a dog is missing does not indicate theft.
The Police would always prefer to list a dog as 'strayed' rather than 'stolen'.
If you are absolutely sure your dog has been stolen you will need to insist on your report being registered as a crime and in some case may need to provide some evidence to back up your claim before they will issue a crime reference number.
Prevention is better than cure so avoid putting your dog into a situation where the opportunity to steal it arises.
We have heard of dogs being stolen from cars, caravans and gardens.
Dogs are stolen when left tied up outside shops or running loose off the lead and out of owners sight.
So the answer is to make sure you keep your dog in sight and not to leave it unattended.
Make sure you have a detailed description and recent photographs of your dog so others can identify it. This will also help you to prove it is yours.
Make note of distinguishing features. Use some form of permanent identification like a tattoo or microchip.
If you do loose your dog or suspect it to be stolen, don't wait - phone the Dog Wardens - Police - local vets and rescue groups straight away - if the dog has strayed and returns to you on its own you can phone them all back to cancel the alert.
Better safe than sorry!
Many people who lose their dog are, naturally, very upset and interviews indicate that these feelings are made worse by a burden of guilt if they feel that they could have done more in retrospect.
Don't wait until it happens to you - get your dog microchipped. As soon as possible. It is now a legal requirement that all dogs over 8 weeks old be microchipped and puppies are required to be chipped at 8 weeks.
Micro-chipping is the best form of permanent identification and there are many companies producing these chips.
There are National registers where details of Microchipped animals are stored for passing on to authorised finders and relevant authorities and organisations.
This is BCR's preferred method of identification and all our dogs are 'chipped'.
Tattoo's are another method of permanent identification and there is a National Tattoo register where owners details are lodged.
The disadvantage of a tattoo is that it is easily seen and can be surgically removed by a thief, although it will leave a scar.
Microchips can also be removed with surgery but a scanner is needed to locate them and it is often impossible to identify their position precisely enough to allow removal.
If you buy a dog from a stranger 'down the pub' and the dog is a stolen animal, you may have committed an offence.
If you are caught the best that you can expect is that the dog will be confiscated and returned to its original owner.
You will not be entitled to compensation for the cost of keeping the dog or money you may have paid for the dog.
You may be prosecuted if it is thought that you bought the dog and were aware that it was or may have been stolen.
If proven you may be fined.
A bargain may not be what it appears to be - and any money they get for stolen goods is a profit to a thief.
If you find a stray dog and do not report it to the dog wardens you may be considered to be guilty of stealing by finding.
By law, if the dog is a stray, the original owner must be given a period of time to claim back their lost dog - usually 7 days.
One other thing to bear in mind - if
someone offers you a dog they say they found as a stray do not take
it for granted.
Check to see if it is their legal property to give away or sell.
Ask for paperwork showing the council has passed ownership of the dog to them and what the circumstances were.
If they do not have paperwork to support their claim, walk away.
If their paperwork suggest that they have found the dog and kept it under the '28 day rule' you should consider the ramifications of this before agreeing to take the dog. There are more details about the 28 day rule in the section on what to do 'if a dog is found' in the sliding menu on the left.
Only if the dog is clearly the property of the person offering it to you should you take or buy it.
It is now a legal requirement to microchip all dogs. If you are offered a dog that is not 'chipped' be suspicious.
If it is chipped the person offering it to you should have a certificate showing it is registered in their name.
If not, be suspicious and go online to look up where it is registered.
Go to the Avid 'Check a Chip' website and enter the number of the chip you wish to verify.
The result will tell you which of the microchip databases the chip is registered to or it will tell you that the chip is not recognised - make sure you have the correct number and try again.
If you still get the same negative report, be suspicious.
If you get a result, contact the database
where the dog is registered, tell them you have been offered a dog
with that chip number and check to see if it has been lost or
They will usually give out that sort of information but will not be able to tell you who the dog is registered to.
Your vet, dog wardens and some charities like us will be able to get more information because we have online access to look up registration details in the various microchip databases.
In this instance it can be seen who the chip is registered to. Again, under Data Protection law, you will not be told it will be possible to confirm if the person offering you the dog is, or is not, the registered keeper.
If that person is not the registered keeper
the vet, dog warden or charity will be able to contact the person to
whom the dog is registered and ask if they have
legally gifted the dog to the person offering it to you. This is not
infallible as sometimes
people do not update microchip databases when they part with or
acquire a dog, even though this is also a legal requirement now.
It is a 'buyer beware' situation so be careful.
Visit this website www.dogtheftaction.com where you will find out more about the growing problem of stolen dogs and get more detailed advice on how to avoid it happening to you and your dog - and what to do if it does! You can also find out how you can help to do something about this problem.
Click on the link in the sliding menu on the left to read some personal experiences of dog theft crimes or to find out more about what to do if you lose or find a dog.