You might have seen headlines this week that somebody shot Lady Gaga’s dogwalker and stole two of her three French bulldogs (the third escaped).
The dogs were later found tied to a lamp post. This might seem to be a truly bizarre incident, but the fact is that dog theft does happen…and French bulldogs are particularly likely victims.
(Likely the thieves abandoned the dogs when they realized they’d taken dogs belonging to a celebrity that they wouldn’t be able to fence, although I’m surprised they didn’t just claim the half a million reward Lady Gaga offers).
Why are Dogs Stolen?
The same reason anything else is stolen. Purebred dogs are worth money. Your back yard mutt isn’t at risk of being taken, but French bulldogs are worth about $1,500 each.
Toy dogs and puppies are more likely to be stolen. The thieves then sell them, undercutting the prices charged by reputable breeders.
Intact dogs are often stolen and used for breeding, and an owner may recover their bitch to find out she’s pregnant with a litter that can’t be registered (and then risk the animal to birth complications). Even worse, dogs have been taken to use as bait to train fighting dogs and it’s not a total myth about them ending up in shady labs.
“Dognapping” is another thing which can happen; taking a dog then waiting for the owner to post a reward.
The Lady Gaga theft stands out for one simple reason: Dog thieves almost never resort to violence.
Thieves take dogs left tied up outside a store or even in their owners’ yard. They have been known to break into cars to steal dogs. One owner’s dog was stolen when she let her loose in the yard to potty.
And in most places, pet theft is only a misdemeanor. There are exceptions — in Virginia, for example, stealing a dog is a Class 5 felony and you can get up to 10 years. This is one of the harshest penalties.
How To Keep Your Dog Safe?
Here are some tips to keep your dog safe:
- Keep your adoption papers, licensing documents, veterinary records, bill of sale…anything that proves you own the animal…in a very safe place. Store them with recent photos of your dog. Take new ones every couple of months.
- Make sure your dog’s ID tag is up to date and has your current address. Update it immediately when you move. (This will help if Fido runs off too).
- Get your dog chipped. Shelters and rescue groups will often hold free or low-cost chipping clinics, as they want to be able to return lost dogs to their owners.
- Never leave your dog in the car. (Should we really still be saying this in 2021?)
- If you have a high value dog, consider not taking it with you when you run errands. A friendly dog tied up outside a store is a very obvious target.
- Make sure that your yard is fenced and the fence is in good condition, both to prevent an escape and so thieves can’t lure your dog out of the yard.
- Don’t brag about how much you paid for a purebred puppy on social media.
What To Do if Your Dog is Stolen?
Lady Gaga’s dogs were dumped because the media circus made them too hot to handle.
We aren’t all Lady Gaga, but the same principle applies with any stolen dog: Make a fuss. Make a lot of fuss. Plaster your dog’s picture everywhere, distribute flyers. Vets and shelters will put up lost/stolen dog pictures for you. Particularly make sure to cover the local humane society, which is where your dog might end up if the thieves dump them. Try to do this before the dog ends up there if the dog is a purebred you are planning on using for breeding; I heard at least one incident where a really expensive Puli stud was neutered by the shelter before the owner could track him down. (Some rescues won’t let you take your own dog back until it’s fixed, which should be illegal…I’m in favor of spay and neuter, but altering somebody else’s animal after you know it was stolen?)
Other things you can do:
- Contact lost/stolen dog groups in your area and on social media. There are Facebook groups out there that help people track down missing animals.
- Check shelters, and expand outwards. Some people have found their dog 100 miles away.
- Contact local media. They will often put a post up on their website about the missing dog and may even write a short article.
- File a police report. Some police departments take animal theft more seriously than others, but even a little bit of effort is better than one, and it also helps establish ownership. They can also post your dog as a “stolen article” on the National Crime Information Center, but this only works well if the dog is chipped.
Dognapping is a problem, it is a thing, and Lady Gaga was lucky to get her dogs back as quickly as she did. Her dog walker was less lucky…poor man.