Dog theft is a scary thing to deal with.
And with 65.1 million households having at least one dog in the United States in 2023 and more than 470 million dogs kept as pets in the world it is no surprise that dogs are receiving undesirable attention from criminals.
In fact, dognapping cases go back to as early as the 1930s.
Raising some awareness of this issue and a better understanding of what the data shows can help dog owners keep their pets safe.
How Many Dogs Get Stolen?
Unfortunately, there is no official database keeping track of stolen dogs in the US. However, according to an old statement done by the American Kennel Club about 2 million dogs are stolen each year according to their estimates.
That said, I am finding it difficult to find any substantive proof of that statement, which may be the reason why this statement was later removed from the AKC’s website.
That said, this can give us a good idea of how bad the situation may be when it comes to pet theft.
On another note, according to the American Humane Association, over 10 million dogs and cats are lost or stolen in the U.S. every year, and 1 in 3 pets will get lost during their life.
By 1976, according to an expert tracking down lost pets at the time, more than 100 dogs were getting stolen per month in the Chicago area alone.
According to Lisa Peterson, director of communications for the American Kennel Club in 2009 in one year pet thefts increased by 30%.
One of the problems that may be connected with the notable lack of data is that the law views dogs as property so cases of dog theft are likely clumped together with other similar crimes in a broader category such as property theft or larceny.
Also, the overall reporting of dog theft to authorities remains inconsistent and there is no system set up in place that tracks those cases.
In fact, until 2016 dog cruelty was simply put into the “All Other Offenses” section in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program.
Another problem is that sometimes if a dog goes missing it can be difficult to figure out if it was stolen or it got lost. As a result, stolen and lost pets can often be clumped together.
That said, things are changing as awareness increases. In 1966 the Animal Welfare Act was signed into law and there is even a Pet Theft Awareness Day which is on February 14th each year.
Dog Theft Statistics From the UK
The UK is a little ahead in this case and has more data that reveal some interesting trends.
According to the data from Statista in 2021, about 34% of households in the UK own a dog, which is approximately 12 million households. There was a substantial increase in dog owners during the 2020 to 2021 period.
In 2016 the police in the UK worked on 1,774 cases of dog theft. This means that on average nearly 5 dogs per day were stolen in the UK in 2016 and about 1 in 5 dogs are returned to their owner.
The numbers may be a lot worse than that because a survey of 2,000 people showed that 3% have had their dog stolen in the past 5 years, this is the equivalent of 1.5 million people in the UK.
However, the trends are not very good as pet theft seems to be increasing.
For example, according to the UK lost and found dog service DogLost there has been a 170% increase in dog theft from 172 cases in 2019 to 465 cases in 2020.
The Pet Theft Task Force reported that 7 out of 10 pets stolen were dogs in 2020 which accounted for about 2000 dogs. At the same time, dog prices grew about 89% during that period.
And according to a 2021 survey conducted by Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne in the UK, 418 people out of the 124,729 interviewed have had their dog stolen in the past year.
While that may seem like a small number, about 27,505 (or 22%) stated that they knew somebody whose dog was stolen in the last 12 months.
What’s more, 65% of the people reported being more concerned and fearful about walking their dog outside during the day and about 62% during the night.
Unsurprisingly, the average has increased and about 8 dogs were stolen each day in the UK during 2021 according to the data aggregated by Direct Line Pet Insurance. There were 2,760 instances of dog theft in the UK in 2021 which is the highest number since 2015 when Direct Line Pet Insurance started collecting data.
The highest number of dogs stolen was in London, Norfolk Constabulary had a record 86% success in returning dogs to their owners.
The data from dog thefts in the UK also show that 23% of the dogs stolen get stolen from their backyards, 11% get stolen directly from their home, and another 11% get stolen while on walks.
Dog Theft Statistics from Australia
Australia, much like other countries, saw an increase in pet theft.
Between 2019 and 2020, pet theft cases in Victoria increased by 50%. In 2020 353 pets in total were stolen, with a total estimated financial loss of $442,097. The pet theft cases in later years dropped slightly to 303 in 2021 and 319 in 2022.
This also caught the eye of lawmakers. They were quick to act, and in 2022, according to a new law, stealing a dog now can result in a penalty of up to $50,000 or imprisonment for two years.
Violent Dog Thefts
There has also been a rise in violent dog thefts over the years.
With the rise of interest in getting a dog as a pet, especially during the pandemic, dog theft, and violent dog theft have also increased.
For example, in 2007 there was a case where two men posing as prospective dog buyers responding to an advert stole five dogs from the owner’s home at gunpoint.
In San Francisco alone there have been several cases where dogs were stolen, during car smash and grabs, breaking and entering, assaults or robberies, and hotel break-ins.
A good example is the case where the famous superstar Lady Gaga’s dogs were stolen directly from her dog walker, who was also shot during the confrontation.
That said, this is not the first case where celebrities have been targeted.
In the 1970s NASCAR driver Junior Johnson’s dog was stolen and later returned after he offered a $1,000 reward.
In 2007 Sheridan Smith’s Shar Pei was stolen 2 times in the span of a month.
Common Reasons for Stealing Dogs
Generally, dogs are stolen for financial gain.
Thieves usually focus on dogs that can be sold or returned in exchange for a substantial sum of money. Some dog breeds are targeted because they can be used for breeding or scientific research.
Dog flipping also seems to be on the rise with multiple cases each year. There have been multiple cases all across the US. For example, not too long ago there was a sudden increase in dog flipping cases in areas around Indiana, Alabama, and Missouri.
Again, according to an old statement made by the AKC, pet flipping has grown about 800% since 2008.
Which Dog Breeds Are Most Commonly Stolen
The targeted dogs are often smaller breeds that can be easily snatched away, popular or exotic dog breeds, and purebreds that are usually very expensive.
The most commonly stolen dog breeds in the US are bulldogs, French bulldogs, chihuahuas, Yorkshire terriers, pugs, shih tzus, Maltese, dachshunds, and poodles.
The most commonly stolen dog breeds in the UK are Staffordshire Bull Terriers, chihuahuas, French and American bulldogs, German shepherds, Jack Russel terriers, huskies, spaniels, pugs, labradors, and Pomeranians.
French Bulldogs and Bulldogs are popular among thieves because of their high value.
Chihuahuas and Yorkshire terriers, pugs, and poodles are popular because they are small breeds and can easily be snatched away.
Some dog breeds such as pit bulls, German shepherds, and rottweilers can also be targeted by criminals for breeding or even dog fights.
Trends can also influence which dog breeds are targeted by thieves.
For example, with the rise of dog shows, poodles were targeted back in the 1950s.
In the 1960s specific breeds used in dog racing were targeted.
Dobermans were also quite popular at one time because of their coats.
Nowadays French bulldogs are one of the breeds that have become very popular and unsurprisingly criminals have started targeting them. In the period between 2020 and 2021, in combination with the breed’s increased popularity and increased demand during the pandemic, missing French bulldog cases increased about 60% to 70%.
Where Are Dogs Stolen From
Dogs are typically stolen when left outside unattended or unmonitored. Reports show that dogs get stolen when left outside storefronts and shopping centers, in unattended cars, or when kept in a backyard.
Dog owners are not safe even when walking their dog or even when holding it as shown in the case of a puppy that got snatched out of the hands of a 5-year-old girl while she was sitting in a public park in Idaho in 2009.
There have also been cases of dog walkers and pet rescuers stealing dogs or trying to conceal them, too.
That said, not all thieves will try to directly steal a dog.
For example, there have been cases where thieves will respond to dog-found flyers or posts and act as the owner in order to get the dog, which they can later sell for profit or use in other ways.
Lost Dog Recovery Rates
When a dog gets stolen it may eventually end up on the streets.
According to one of the UK sources mentioned above about 1 in 5 dogs end up getting returned safely to their owners. It was concluded that this was as a result of two things:
- either the thieves were captured, or
- the dog was found abandoned by the thieves.
Generally, if a dog gets lost in your neighborhood it may be able to find its way back home, however, when thieves abandon it is not clear how far it is from its home.
According to one research paper 93% of lost dogs are found. The most common way lost dogs are reunited with their owners is through ID tags and collars with relevant information. Microchips are also extremely helpful in that regard.
What’s more the data showed that about 10-30% of the lost dogs are found in shelters. Conversely, the data from ASPCA tells a slightly different story where only 6% of owners were able to find their lost dog in a shelter.
Impact of Dog Theft
Dognapping has been found to have a devastating effect on the owners.
One study on the impact of dog theft found that out of all people questioned:
- 48% felt devastated,
- 37% were experiencing severe psychological or physiological consequences,
- 30% had feelings of grief, loss, or mourning,
- About 78% said their social life has been negatively affected, and
- 41% experienced negative effects on their work and family life.
Biggest Problems Facing Owners of Stolen Dogs
The biggest problem owners of stolen dogs face is often proof of ownership, especially if the dog is not purchased from a reputable breeder and has not been registered and chipped.
The problem stems from the fact that just because a dog is being friendly with somebody, this does not mean they are the true owner.
Because of this, some owners are going so far as to even place a small tattoo on their dogs.
Offering Rewards for Stolen Animals
Offering a reward is a good way to get a dog back if it was stolen for profit. Generally offering a reward close to the dog’s market value is recommended and stating that there will be no questions asked also helps.
Offering a reward for info that can lead to the return of the dog is also a good tactic.
According to Karin TarQwyn a private investigator specializing in tracking lost or stolen dogs and cats the least amount of money they have paid in order to get a French bulldog safely back home was $3,500. (As a reference point, French bulldogs cost between $3,000 and $6,000.)
US Laws in Connection to Dog Theft
In most states, dog stealing is considered a misdemeanor that involves paying a certain fee and possibly serving jail time. Depending on the severity of the case and the monetary value of the dog this can easily turn into a more serious felony with more serious repercussions.
As of 2023, only 20 US states have implemented dog theft laws. Those are:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New York
- North Carolina
- Rhode Island
- West Virginia
Although data shows some promising trends and a slow but steady movement in the right direction the laws and regulations still leave a lot to be desired.
Many states still do not consider dog theft to be a serious crime.
The Best Course of Action When a Dog Is Stolen
There are several things that owners of stolen dogs can do in order to improve the odds of having their dog returned safely.
- Report the theft to your local police station. Provide all the information and details that you can remember including a detailed description of the dog, photos (especially ones where the owner and the dog are present), proof of ownership, vet records, and receipts.
- Check and inform local animal shelters, veterinary clinics, local radio stations, dog groomers, and rescue organizations. Provide them with photos, detailed descriptions, and let them know if the dog is microchipped.
- Have the chip on alert and check the microchip pet registry.
- Make flyers and put them up. You can mention that the dog is suspected to be stolen and add a detailed description of the dog without mentioning the dog’s name or its microchip number. Lying that the dog has a serious illness and needs medication can also work.
- Share on social media (Facebook, Instagram, etc.), forums, and subreddits of your area.
- Check online sites where dogs may be sold such as Craigslist.
- Check your neighborhood and surrounding towns and do the dog’s usual routes.
- Consider hiring pet detectives.
Best Ways of Protecting a Dog From Getting Stolen
The best way to protect a dog from getting stolen is to not leave it unattended or unmonitored in public areas.
If kept in a backyard it is recommended to make sure the area is well-secured and surveillanced or ideally keep your dog indoors.
While walking the dog it is best to keep it always on a leash.
Lastly, have the dog microchipped. Register the chip and keep your address and phone numbers up to date. Also, GPS pet trackers can help in those situations as they will allow you to find the location of your dog.
List your phone number and your vet’s phone number on the collar.