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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. Dog theft has been on the rise for several years now. Those who take our fur babies are looking for ways to make quick cash or breed them for money.
As a result of the growing trend, National Pet Theft Awareness Day seeks to bring attention to prevention. Each year on February 14th, we draw awareness on a national scale on the riskiest situations, ways to keep your pet safe, and the punishments for those who steal. Read on to learn more about the laws, ways to track your pet, and what to do should you have a pet go missing. We even share a personal story.
An estimated two million domestic animals are victims of dog theft each year in the U.S. Unfortunately, only about 10% of owners recover their dogs. Why do dogs get stolen in the first place, and what breeds are most at risk?
What are the main reasons thieves steal dogs? Money is the driving force. Most stolen dogs are by dog flippers: people who realize the high monetary value of specific breeds and can re-sell them as pets for a significant profit. They might also steal for the often high cash rewards for finding lost pets.
Some thieves steal dogs to sell them to illegal fighting rings and training methods or sell them for medical research.
The majority of thefts involve purebreds. Here are the ten most commonly stolen dog breeds.
- Yorkshire Terrier
- Boston Terrier
- French Bulldog
- American Pit Bull Terrier
- German Shepherd
- Labrador Retriever
Thieves steal these breeds for their $2,000+ resale value — the exception is American Pit Bulls, which are taken for illegal fighting purposes. If your dog is not on the most stolen breed list, you should review the most expensive dog breeds that may draw unwanted attention.
Although 92% of pet parents consider dogs members of their family, most state laws don’t agree. You may have heard the term “dognapping,” but it’s misleading from a legal standpoint.
Kidnapping a person is a severe criminal offense. However, the law does not see it that way with kidnapped dogs. Why? A majority of states don’t even have specific stolen pet laws. Dogs, instead, are seen as personal property.
That’s why pet theft most often falls under a state’s general theft and larceny laws. In these states, stealing a pet isn’t distinguished in any way from taking a tv, jewelry, or other possessions.
States That Have Stolen Dog Laws
As of 2022, only 15 states specifically address the theft of dogs in their criminal codes. These include:
- New Hampshire
- New York
- North Carolina
- Rhode Island
- West Virginia
Legal Penalties For Dog Theft
What are the charges for stealing a dog? Criminal charges and penalties vary widely by state, even in those with specific criminal codes for dog theft. Most states consider pet theft a misdemeanor, and the penalties include relatively small fines and little to no jail time.
California and Louisiana impose different charges and penalties based on the monetary value of the stolen dog. A few states have stepped up their laws with more severe charges and penalties.
We’ve done extensive research into each state with specific stolen dog statutes. Based on this analysis, here’s our list of the top five states with the most severe dog theft criminal statutes and penalties.
In Virginia, stealing a dog is a Class 5 felony, punishable by up to 10 years in jail, regardless of the dog’s monetary value.
Louisiana is one of the states that separate dog theft charges by your dog’s value, but their penalties are harsher than many other places.
If the stolen dog’s value exceeds $500, it can result in imprisonment for up to 10 years or a fine of up to $3,000 (or both). If the stolen dog is worth less than $500, you could still face a fine and imprisonment but less than for higher value pets.
If guilty of stealing a dog in Oklahoma, one faces a felony conviction with imprisonment in the state jail for a term not less than six months or up to three years.
You can also face a fine equal to three times the value of the animal you stole (up to $500,000).
4. New York
In New York, stealing a dog is a class E felony that could land you in jail for up to 6 months. In 2014, New York raised its fine for dog theft from $200 to $1,000, regardless of the dog’s monetary value.
If you’re found guilty of dog theft in Mississippi, it’s a felony punishable by a fine of not more than $ 500 or imprisonment in the county jail for up to six months (or both).
Here are some tips to help you keep your dog safe from thieves.
Proof Of Ownership
Make sure you have current documentation that proves you own your dog. These include adoption papers, licensing documents, veterinary records, proofs of purchase for animal care supplies, and recent identifying photographs. Learn more about dog ownership laws.
Keep Tags Updated
Make sure you update your dog’s collars and ID tags with your current phone number and other contact details. If you recently moved, make sure you update this essential accessory immediately.
Get Your Dog Microchipped
Most animal shelters or veterinary clinics can microchip your dog. If you’re on a tight budget, look for free or low-cost microchip opportunities that your local shelters, rescue groups, and other organizations hold.
A key component to microchipping is registering the chip with the manufacturer’s and universal microchip registries, like Michelson Found Animals’ registry.
You also must update your contact information with these registries if you move or change your phone number.
Buy Pet Insurance
Did you know some pet insurance policies cover some costs associated with stolen pets? Two companies in our pet insurance reviews come to mind, Figo and Fetch.
Figo offers an Extra Care Pack as an add-on to your pet insurance policy for an extra fee. This includes coverage for advertising, a lost pet reward, and $150 towards the loss of your pet.
Fetch offers this additional coverage with all policies with a $15,000 annual limit or more. These customers include the advertising costs, a reward for a stolen or lost pet, and reimbursement for the amount you paid for your pet if they are stolen or go missing.
If you suspect that someone stole your dog, it’s critical to take the following steps immediately:
1. File A Police Report
Call the police and animal control in the area where your pet disappeared, and be sure to file an official police report. However, don’t stop there with your efforts. A stolen dog is likely a low priority for your local authorities.
2. Post Your Dog’s Microchip Number
If your dog has a microchip, ask to have their unique serial number, along with the dog’s description, posted in the “stolen article” category on the National Crime Information Center.
3. Canvass The Area
Since stolen pets are usually a low priority for police, you should do the investigative legwork. Talk to people in the immediate vicinity where your pet went missing. You never know who may have witnessed the actual theft or seen your lost dog.
4. Distribute Flyers
Always make sure you have a recent photo of your pet so you can quickly make flyers if they go missing. Post your flyers around your neighborhood, on social media, and on local websites to get as much visibility as possible.
5. Search For Sale Ads
Your stolen dog might end up on a local for-sale ad online if taken by a dog flipper. Check your local message boards and for-sale ads.
6. Check Local Animal Shelters
Dog flippers may leave your dog at an animal shelter if they realize selling it is not a lucrative option. It’s always a good idea to visit your local shelter in person to see if your stolen pet is there.
7. Contact The Media
Call or email your local TV station, radio station, and newspaper and request that they post on their website about your missing pet. Here’s a local story in Tulsa, OK, about how one man was able to get his story out to recover his stolen Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, hopefully.
Another measure you can take to recover your dog is to invest in a dog collar, GPS tracking collar, or Whistle. See our Whistle review to learn more. However, if removed, the collar will not track the location.
Video: Stolen Dog Laws
Watch and share this one-minute video we created to help spread awareness about dog theft prevention.
In Fall 2019, Darrin Giglio, Chief Investigator at North American Investigations (NAI), was contacted by a man who made the mistake of tying his girlfriend’s Morkie up outside the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in a New York City suburb. The man was devastated to return and find Bella gone. After trying unsuccessfully to find the missing dog, the guy enlisted Mr. Giglio and his NAI team to find the dog.
I certainly understand that anyone whose pet goes missing will start looking, asking people, putting up posters, etc., which is normal. However, there are situations, especially when it is criminal, where you have to be careful because an untrained person can make mistakes that can compromise getting the dog located and returned.– Darrin Giglio, Chief Investigator at North American Investigations
The NAI investigation’s first step involved inquiring at local shelters and animal hospitals to rule out Bella’s possibility of running away or turning in. Next, they looked into potential surveillance footage from the abduction place. While awaiting footage, the firm received a tip from a witness from a missing dog poster who claimed to have insights into the dog’s whereabouts.
Pro Tip: Giglio warns to question the credibility of inquiries from missing dog posters. “Even if the witness has good intentions and is believable, the data can vary from witness to witness.” Private investigators vet sources and buffer between possible leads and the client. Often desperate to get their dog back, the client is vulnerable and may offer reward money in exchange for false information.
After canvassing the area and utilizing police contacts missing dogs reports, NAI observed a dog who fit Bella’s description. But conclusive evidence confirmed that the dog was not Bella, so they continued their investigation.
When NAI got the video footage back, they saw the dog scooped up by a pair of male and female accomplices. But due to poor video quality, they could not make out any characteristics of the couple. Even the license plate number of their car was illegible. The NAI team subpoenaed additional information from the DMV, questioned employees, accessed street cameras, and requested other potential evidence to provide new insights.
Armed with this information, NAI successfully identified a suspect on probation and arrested them. Further questioning led to a conviction, and eventually, Bella was reunited with her owners, thanks to Giglio and his team’s investigative work.
Six weeks or even a few days can seem like an eternity when your loved one is missing. So if you have a stolen dog situation, hiring a professional in your local area can speed up the information gathering and analyzing process, helping you reunite with your sweet pup quickly.
Don’t assume that your home is safe from pet theft. Some burglars will enter your residence to steal a valuable dog. How can you protect your pup — and your home?
Be sure to check out our reviews of the best doggie cameras, including WiFi cameras with live-streaming video, to find out which would be best to install in your home.Tagged With: