Combatting the increase in dog theft - Veterinary Practice
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Combatting the increase in dog theft

Dog thefts have increased in number over the past year, and there are certain things to bear in mind to prevent this happening to your canine friend and to tell owners seeking advice

Hardly a day goes by now when one does not read or hear about another beloved dog being stolen. Several years ago, one could take their dogs for a nice walk in the woods and let them off the lead without any worries, knowing they would return at your call. Freedom was what it was all about; unclipping the lead for a run along the beach or a swim in the sea was normal for most owners. Sadly, now they are having to constantly look over their shoulder.

What have owners got to be aware of now? Seeking veterinary advice about microchipping and having that done is top of the list. It is now law to have all dogs chipped by eight weeks of age – if not, a potential fine of up to £500 can be issued. Make sure your dog is registered with local rescue centres and check on those that offer dog walking opportunities. Get your trusty camera or mobile phone out and take some photos, remembering to update these with age and any specific, identifying features that make your pal that little bit different.

Earlier this year, a site in West Sussex was raided by the police after a tip-off and over 80 stolen dogs were found there. All had come from good homes but many remained unclaimed due to the fact that they were not microchipped.

Those involved in stealing dogs are aware that, due to the COVID-19 virus, more people are seeking the company of a pet. They will charge high prices and advertise online or even overseas. Other stolen dogs are used for breeding purposes and their puppies are sold on again.

No one is safe now. One harrowing case occurred to an elderly pensioner walking her “best pal” on a pavement in Kent when a passer-by stopped her to say what a nice dog she had and, before she knew it, the lead was snatched out of her hand and the dog was bundled into a nearby car. This caused such a stir in the village where she had lived most of her life that local celebrity animal lover Paul O’Grady, an ambassador for Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, got involved. It was some six weeks later that the dog was found with a new owner who had purchased it at a high price in good faith, and was unaware that it had been stolen. It was following a check-up at her vets when they discovered that the microchip did not register her as the owner.

Another new trend is to steal a pet in the open. Again, there was a recent case where two people came up to the owner on a beach and asked her about her dog that was running around by the water’s edge. While the owner was distracted, a third person offered the dog some goodies, put a collar on it and ran off placing it in a nearby vehicle.

Owners should not leave a dog in a car, even with windows open, tied up outside a shop or left in an open garden unattended. Regional policing units are now setting up stolen dog teams and these are advising owners how they can protect their beloved pets. For example, if you see a van driving around a residential estate looking at properties on a regular basis, beware, as there are now situations where these are there for one purpose: to steal your dog from your garden. This has been happening a lot more, even when the owner has been at home. Secure your back garden gates and check fences for any damage which would allow your dog to get out after being called by the potential thief.

Some of the small dog breeds are now very popular and expensive. As Marc Abraham, the vet behind Lucy’s Law, said: “Puppy farming is now being reduced and new regulations relating to this are in place. However, as a result the need for young dogs has increased and dog theft has spiralled to its highest level ever.” There are requests by many regional MPs to increase the penalties for stealing pets while also making the sale of them a lot harder. Microchipping is so important but not all owners do this.

The RSPCA and Blue Cross, along with other charitable organisations, are working hard to get new regulations passed. A spokesperson said, “We are really concerned about the increase of such thefts, and every day we hear of such harrowing cases. Many owners are elderly and to them their dog is their life and trusty companion. They are unable to defend themselves if their pet is forcibly taken from them and some of those involved show little respect for the well-being of the owner.”

Local veterinary practices should be there to offer advice and owners should feel free to visit their nearest practice and find out how they can help. They may know of safer areas to walk dogs or of approved and trusted dog walkers who can help the elderly who are unable to get out like they used to. Vets can also offer advice about costings for microchipping and how to secure one’s home to make it that little bit safer. The presence of cat flaps can attract a potential thief’s attention too: some thefts have been reported where the dog had been called out via the cat flap.

As for the name of your dog – it is not necessarily a wise move to have it showing on the collar or a nice posh name tag: once seen, the potential thief will call and guess who comes running to them? Your best friend, perhaps sadly never to be seen again.

Please rest assured, by writing this feature I am not trying to frighten you. I am trying, with the help of the veterinary profession and other supportive organisations including the police, to halt this terrible increase in dog theft. Your dog is part of your family and to some the loss of your canine friend is like losing a member of your family. They give you love, affection and warmth, and you can do the same by giving them extra care and attention during these current times.

John Periam

John is a photojournalist; he worked as a veterinary salesman in the 1960s and still has strong links to the profession through his equestrian work. John is also a regional correspondent for a trade paper for the UK fishing industry.

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