Some criminals look at rare, expensive or popular breeds of cats and dogs and see dollar signs instead of adorable pets. Owners of even moderately valuable animals should take steps to protect them.
In February 2021, pet theft took center stage in the news cycle when two of Lady Gaga’s French Bulldogs were kidnapped and her dog walker was shot (he has since recovered). But celebrities aren't the only people at risk of pet theft.
Here’s what you need to know about pet theft, how best to avoid it and how pet insurance might help if you fall victim to it.
Table of contents
- Why do people steal dogs?
- What is the most commonly stolen dog?
- How to prevent dog theft: 7 tips
- Does pet insurance cover dog theft?
- How to find a stolen dog
Why do people steal dogs?
Pet theft is primarily a commercial crime, says Sadie Cornelius, a writer for CanineJournal.com. Cornelius says it's rare for a dog thief to steal a particular dog breed and keep it for themselves. Instead, she says, “Most dogs are stolen by dog flippers: people who realize the high monetary value of specific breeds and can re-sell them as pets for a significant profit.”
The terms “pet kidnapping” or “dognapping” imply some sort of ransom, but Cornelius explains that thieves rarely ask the pet owner for money.“Asking for a ransom is too risky, especially in this day in age when security cameras are everywhere.”
Cornelius adds that it's more common for people to sell dogs and cats on the black market (e.g., through Craigslist or newspaper ads) rather than attempting to sell them back to the original owner for a cash reward.
She also says that cats are less likely to be stolen since they're more often confined indoors. But cat theft isn't unheard of, with breeds such as Bengals, Siamese, and Russian Blues being common targets.
The thieves did not demand ransom from Lady Gaga, but she did offer a $500,000 reward for the return of her dogs. Chris DeRose, President of Last Chance for Animals says thieves will often abandon a dog “far from the scene of the crime in order to avoid being caught” if no reward is forthcoming.
But that’s still not even the worst outcome for a stolen pet, according to DeRose.“In some cases, the dogs are sold to so-called ‘backyard breeders’ who run unlicensed and unregulated breeding operations. Conditions are often dirty and cruel for these dogs who face a short life of perpetual, unhealthy breeding.”
In other cases, animals are stolen and sold to research labs or testing facilities. DeRose adds that smaller dogs and cats are also sometimes sold in order to be used as bait in dogfighting operations.
What is the most commonly stolen dog?
As the most ubiquitous pets outside the home, dogs are prime targets for theft. And a look at what some dogs cost helps explain why.
While a majority of dog owners in our 2021 survey on pet ownership reported spending no more than $300 for their pooch, more than one in seven spent at least $1,000, and close to half of those buyers paid more than $2,000.
French Bulldogs, like those Lady Gaga owns, are a popular target for dognappers, according to the website IHeartDogs. Their compact size makes them easy to steal, and their popularity — they’re the most popular breed in the U.S., according to the American Kennel Club — allows criminals to easily resell the dogs to unsuspecting buyers for as much as $4,000.
IHeartDogs.also cites Yorkshire Terriers, Pomeranians and Maltese as frequent targets for theft, since thieves can resell them for as much as $3,000.
How to prevent dog theft: 7 tips
There are several steps dog owners can take to protect their beloved companions from being stolen. From staying alert to microchipping, here are five theft prevention tips to help keep your pooch safe.
1. Don't leave your dog unattended
Pets are most vulnerable when they’re alone and accessible. Keep in mind that pet theft is “not an opportunistic crime,” DeRose warns. “Thieves often plan the theft ahead of time and ensure that the abduction is fast and discreet, often ensuring that there are no witnesses.”
We give pet owners the same advice every year: “Do not leave a dog or cat anywhere that you would not leave a small, helpless child.”
Cornelius seconds that advice and adds that “you should always keep a close eye on your dogs while at home, particularly when they're outside.”
Claudine Sievert, a Kansas-based Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and a Veterinary Consultant with CatPet Club, advises pet owners to consider installing a security system with a camera. “Just having a security system will deter burglars and, if there is a break-in, you will be able to get footage of the intruders.”
2. Be mindful of your surroundings
Stay alert when out and about with your dog, especially in unfamiliar or secluded areas and if there's an uptick in pet theft in your community.
Dog parks with poor lighting or bad fencing can leave your pup vulnerable, so it's best to use these facilities with a friend who can keep an eye on your pet or opt for a more secure dog park.
3. Use a dog theft prevention device
Anti-theft leashes, GPS tracking collars or specialized harnesses designed to prevent theft can give you peace of mind. While they may not always stop potential thieves from making the attempt, these devices will provide an extra layer of security and protection for your furry friend.
4. Microchip your dog
A microchip can be an effective way to reunite you with your pup should they be stolen. In addition to providing contact information, a microchip also provides proof of ownership, and vets or animal shelters can read the chip with a special scanner.
If your dog or outdoor cat isn't microchipped already, consider doing so; it’s a quick, easy procedure offered by many veterinarians. Then, if the animal finds its way to a shelter, staff there can scan the microchip and contact you.
A study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association reveals that out of over 7,700 stray animals at different animal shelters, dogs without microchips were returned to their owners 21.9% of the time. On the other hand, microchipped dogs were returned to their owners 52.2% of the time.
5. Keep your dog's ID collar tags updated
It's important to update your dog's ID tags anytime your contact information changes. This can help authorities or a good samaritan quickly reunite you with your pup if they are ever stolen or run away.
It's also a good idea to have a second contact number on the tag if you can't be reached at the primary number for any reason.
Your dog's vaccination tag also offers valuable information: the veterinarian's address and license and office number. The veterinarian will have your contact info on record and reach out if your pet is returned to their office.
6. Spay or neuter your dog to thwart pet thieves in the dog breeding business
Spaying or neutering your dog is the best way to deter would-be thieves in the puppy mill business. Not only does it prevent pet overpopulation, but it also reduces the value of your pup as a breeding commodity.
7. Watch out for signs someone wants to steal your dog
Being aware of certain red flags can help you keep your pet safe. Be suspicious of strangers who seem overly enthusiastic about your pup or ask too many questions.
Also, be wary of someone who aggressively offers to pay a large sum of money for your pet. If something just doesn't seem right, trust your gut and take the necessary precautions.
Does pet insurance cover dog theft?
Insuring your pets against theft is far from easy. For one, you’ll probably strike out when it comes to collecting on your homeowners insurance policy. “Homeowner insurance only provides coverage for liability issues relating to pets,” as when your pet injures another person, says vet and consultant Sievert.
Nor is theft usually covered under a regular pet insurance policy, which insures against medical expenses but not the value of the pet itself. There are, however, a few exceptions. A handful of the best pet insurance companies offer lost or stolen pet benefits as part of their base policy or as an add-on.
Nationwide policies, for example, include coverage of up to $500 for the value of a pet that’s stolen or wanders away unnoticed. The company also reimburses up to the same amount for the expense of advertising a lost pet and offering a reward for its return. Other companies that offer similar benefits include Fetch, Figo, Trupanion and Metlife.
Sievert adds that pet-insurance companies such as Pet Assure, ASPCA and 24PetWatch might decide “at their discretion to make pet-theft insurance available as an add-on to a policy, she says. “They may also provide it as a stand-alone policy for a special class of the insured, like zoos that are insuring costly animals.”
Take a moment to learn how to make a pet insurance claim for a stolen or lost pet. Most insurers require you to file a police report and submit evidence that you've contacted a specific number of shelters, veterinary clinics and emergency hospitals in your area. Insurance will pay out if your dog isn't found within 30 days, but you'll have to return the money.
The cost of such coverage, though, may be priced with high-value animals in mind. Your premiums will vary based on factors such as the market value of the breed, but it’s not uncommon to pay $50 a month to insure a dog against theft, and $30 a month for a cat, according to Sievert.
How to find a stolen dog
If you find yourself in the unfortunate situation of having your dog stolen, there are a few things you can do to help get them back.
- If you have a GPS-enabled device on your pup (such as a chipped collar), turn on the device's location tracking.
- Contact local rescues and shelters to let them know your pet is missing.
- Make fliers and post them on social media platforms, and ask your friends and family to get the word out.
- Most organizations don't recommend offering a reward, but that's ultimately up to you as the pet owner. If you choose to do so, be cautious and verify the identity of anyone claiming they have information or the pet itself.
- If you're absolutely certain that your pet has been stolen and is not just missing, contact the police and provide them with any supporting evidence.
How to prevent dog theft FAQs
What should I do if someone steals my dog and won't give it back?
For your safety and that of your dog, avoid confronting them in person, no matter if you're accompanied or not.Contact the police if you know the person who took your dog or can identify them. If they won't return your pet willingly, filing a stolen dog report is the next best step.
What should I do if my dog was stolen and has a microchip?
Unfortunately, pet microchips don't have GPS tracking capabilities as they utilize radio-frequency identification technology. Contact the company that manages your pet's microchip to alert them and update your contact information.You can also request the National Crime Information Center post your dog's description and unique microchip serial number in a stolen pet database. This will help local shelters and animal control agencies identify your pet if it is ever brought in.
How many dogs are stolen every week?
As many cases of missing pets go unsolved or unreported, it is difficult to calculate the exact number of dogs that are stolen over a given period of time.However, according to Peeva, a pet technology company focused on helping pet owners find missing pets, nearly 10 million dogs and cats are lost or stolen in the U.S. every single year. This works out to nearly 200,000 pets per week, on average.
What is the penalty for stealing a dog?
The penalty for stealing a dog depends on your state's laws and the severity of the crime. Depending on the circumstances, those found guilty may simply face misdemeanor criminal charges, fines or restitution payments.In some states, stealing a dog can be classified as grand larceny — a felony — resulting in a much harsher penalty. In other cases, there may be civil penalties imposed by the courts such as paying damages to the owner of the dog.
Summary of Money's guide on preventing dog theft
The best way to protect your pet is to take all possible precautions that will reduce the risk of theft. Ensuring that your pet is microchipped, wearing identification tags with up-to-date contact information, never leaving them unattended in public areas and making sure they are spayed or neutered will all help.
Additionally, keeping your yard secure with fences or camera surveillance may also be beneficial. If you do think your pet has been stolen, promptly contact both the police and animal control services.