Lost Pets: Thefts On The Rise

It’s a day just like the rest and you’ve been out at work, school, or perhaps just running some quick errand. You walk in through your door expecting a happy pet to welcome you excitedly when all of a sudden your stomach drops. You frantically search your home in hopes that your pet is just hiding somewhere. Sadly, he/she is nowhere to be found.

This has been happening increasingly over the years. The American Kennel Club (AKC) has been tracking the numbers of stolen pets since about 2008. The numbers have grown drastically. here is a list of the recorded numbers in some of the past years:

  • 2008: 71 thefts
  • 2009: 162 thefts
  • 2010: 212 thefts
  • 2014: 637 thefts

These numbers don’t look too good and pet thefts shouldn’t be this high. “Who would steal a beloved pet and for what reasons?” is a very common question. However, there are many reasons a thief may target pets. Most often, a pet is sold for a profit after it is stolen. When it is a dog theft this may be called ‘dog flipping’ but other pets go missing and there are other objectives that are even worse to think about.

A common victim of for-profit thefts may be purebred dogs. A thief can make lots of money with very little effort, due to the animal’s pedigree. Other dogs can be sold to puppy mills and a variety of pets can be sold to what are called Class B dealers. These ‘dealers’ will buy pets, which are often stolen, in order for use in a lab for experimentation. Other thieves may take an animal from its home and wait for a reward to be offered. They will then return the lost pet in order to receive the reward. Some thieves have gone so far as to look in newspaper classifieds and finding a ‘pet for sale’ ad with an address. They will then break into the home and take the pet or even a whole litter with them.

A terrible non-profit reason, for dog theft specifically, is the use of ‘bait dogs’. These dogs are often used to train a thief’s dog in a fighting ring. Common targets for this purpose are German Shepherds, Doberman Pinschers, and Pit Bulls. However, some pets may be stolen for breeding or simply because the thief likes your pet and wants to keep it.

Prevent Pet Theft

Since pet theft has been on the rise, this means that thieves have become more daring. Pets aren’t safe in your backyard or home anymore. There have been reported thefts from streets, parks, cars, backyards, and even homes.

To avoid pet theft it is best to be one step ahead of a pet thief. Here is a list of tips for prevention of theft:

  • First things first, keep your pet indoors and if they must go outdoors keep an eye on them. Don’t let them wander on their own.
  • When placed in a backyard, make sure gates or fences are secure.
  • Get a current ID tag for your pet and if you are willing, a microchip would be great extra protection. A good idea for an ID tag is to NOT print your dog’s name on it. You don’t want a thief calling your pet by name after all. Instead try printing, “Reward if Found” and/or “Needs Medication” on the tag. Anything similar to that can help get your pet back to you if they go missing.
  • Always have recent photos of your pet ready to go and don’t lose any paperwork that shows ownership of that pet.
  • Spay and neuter your pets in order to lower their desires to wander. It also helps that many laboratories don’t take animals which have been altered.
  • When in a park, keep your pet on a leash. It only takes a few minutes for a thief to run up to your pet and carry them off. If you feel your pet needs more freedom, use an extendable leash or make sure you keep them near and at sight at all times.
  • NEVER leave your pet tied up outside of a shop or house while you run a quick errand. As I mentioned before, it doesn’t take that long to steal a pet. Especially friendly ones.
  • When your dog is in a car, make sure you lock it and don’t lower the windows enough that your dog can be slipped out through the opening. It would be best to avoid this scenario though since some dogs have been stolen from locked cars.
  • Make sure your home is always locked when you are not home and place your pets into a room where they cannot be spotted from outside. Adding security, such as an alarm system, wouldn’t hurt either.
  • Always keep an eye out for strangers. Some thieves plot and plan before they go through with a heist, so report any suspicious activity near your home.

“My pet is gone! What do I do?”

If your pet does happen to go missing and you’re like me, you will get in a panic. This panic leaves you at a loss and makes it difficult to figure out what to do in order to find your baby. To prevent this, one must always be prepared with an action plan if your pet goes missing. Write this down if you must but always be prepared and avoid panicking.

  • First call the police and report your stolen dog.
  • Begin your search by making flyers with pictures of your dog, your phone number, and any reward information. When describing your dog in a flyer make sure to describe it well enough to be identified but leave out a characteristic unique to your dog. This can help assure you when a caller really does have your pet.
  • Post flyers where they will be noticed by a large amount of people.
  • Post ads online and in newspapers. There are plenty of websites that are specifically created for this and newspapers are a classic when it comes to lost pet ads.
  • Call your local animal shelter and animal control offer to check if they have picked up or received any pets that could be yours.
  • Walk on foot around the area your pet went missing and call out for them. The less traffic, the better, so if you go in the evening when traffic has slowed it may be helpful since your pet will be able to hear you better.
  • Drive around the area your pet went missing. It can’t hurt. I remember losing hope when a puppy of mine went missing. It was dark out and my headlights illuminated the bottom half of a porch where my baby was being kept. I was so glad I kept wandering the neighborhood looking for her, especially in my car, since the headlights helped pinpoint my pet.
  • Search online for any animals matching your pet’s description that may be for sale. Chances are it may be your pet. Social media has become a common sales area so search on social media as well as on sites like Craigslist. Check shelter sites as well as sites like Petfinder. If your pet was found, it may be up for adoption.

Remember, don’t give up. People have found a missing pet months and even years after beginning their search. There is always hope and don’t forget to always double check that offers for pet returns are legitimate. Have proof of ownership ready and be prepared to question a caller in order to be sure it is your pet in their possession.

Helpful Links

We’ve put together a compilation of helpful links for lost or found pets HERE.


Posted in Education & Information and tagged , , .


  1. Scary, but thank you for raising awareness. I never thought about NOT putting a pet’s name on an “if lost” tag, but it makes lots of sense.

    • You’re welcome, Gwen. We are beginning to look at some of the issues that feed into shelter overcrowding – and euthanization. We are so very pleased to have Noemi on board, researching and writing her monthly educational posts! (Quite frankly, I hadn’t thought about the ramifications of putting a pet’s name on an ID tag either.)

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