By Kim Gilliam
You probably saw the headlines last week: Lady Gaga’s dog walker was shot in the chest and the thieves took two of the pop star’s beloved French Bulldogs. The dogs were returned, likely due to the half million-dollar reward she offered with “no questions asked,” but it’s not just celebrities that are victims of this crime.
Dognapping has become surprisingly common in the U.S. According to Tom Sharp, the president and CEO of AKC Reunite, the American Kennel Club’s lost pet recovery service, thousands of dogs are stolen every year, a statistic that has increased 70% since 2010. Dognapping is almost always a crime of opportunity, with dogs typically stolen from yards, animal shelters or pet stores, mostly in the spur of the moment.
But why would someone steal a dog? Sometimes it’s because they can’t afford to buy one of their own. But more often, high-dollar small breeds are stolen to be resold. Dogs like Lady Gaga’s are expensive and easy to grab and run off with. French Bulldog puppies can fetch between $2,000 and $5,000, enticing for a prospective thief who would likely try to sell the dog for cash via Facebook or Craigslist. Other breeds might be sold for illegal fighting rings or medical research purposes.
Is dognapping taken seriously from a legal standpoint? Usually, a dog is considered personal property, so this crime is considered to be theft or grand theft depending on the dog’s value. However, in some jurisdictions, such as Virginia, dognapping is considered a Class 5 felony, punishable by up to 10 years in jail regardless of the dog’s monetary value. Virginia is one of only 15 states that specifically addresses dognapping in its criminal code.
Do you ever leave your dog unattended in your yard or tied up outside a coffee shop while you grab a cup of Joe? If so, you’re unknowingly giving dog thieves an open invitation to snatch your pup. The majority of thefts involve purebreds and the most commonly stolen dog breeds include the Yorkshire Terrier; Pomeranian; Maltese; Boston Terrier; French Bulldog; Chihuahua; Labradoodle; American Pit Bull Terrier; German Shepherd; and Labrador Retriever. Is your dog on that list?
So how can you protect your dog? Make sure you have proof of ownership documentation and a recent identifying photograph readily available and keep their I.D. tags and microchip updated with your current phone number and address.
If your back yard is accessible to strangers, keep a close eye on your pup. Dognappers will use whatever tricks they can to lure them away from your home. Even when you and your dog are out for a walk, there is still a potential for danger. Stay off your phone so you are aware of your surroundings and be careful walking your dog off leash; there’s no guarantee they won’t be led astray from you. Plus, stay tight-lipped about where you live, places you frequent with your pup or even how much you paid for your dog. Remember, thieves look for high-value dogs.
If you believe your dog has been stolen, the first step is to file reports with the police and animal control in the area where your pet disappeared. You can also have your dog’s microchip unique serial number posted in the “stolen article” category on the National Crime Information Center.
Talk to people in the immediate vicinity to see if they saw any suspicious activity and distribute flyers as soon as possible with a recent photo or your pet. Post on social media including alert services such as PawBoost and the AKC Lost Pet Alert to get as much visibility as possible. You’ll then want to search “for sale” ads on Craigslist, Facebook and local message boards and call area animal shelters in case the dognapper dumped them instead. You can also contact local media outlets to request their help in getting the word out.
Your dog is priceless to you; it’s important you do your best to keep them safe.
The writer co-owns Frolick Dogs, an indoor dog gym in Alexandria, with her husband, Kevin Gilliam.