I need to get something off my chest. Ready? Here it is: no one is immune to pet theft. It can happen to you no matter what you might think right this moment. In fact, if you don’t think it can happen to you, you are putting your pet at risk. It’s the pet owners who accept that it’s a real threat who will prevent it from happening to their pet. I guarantee you that none of the people you see on social media or the news begging for a safe return of their beloved companion expected their pet to be stolen, so they never took even basic preventative measures against it.
If you’re not open to the possibility of it happening to you, there’s no way you can prevent it. There. I feel better. Now that we are on the same page, let’s talk about the steps you should take so your BFF doesn’t end up in the wrong hands.
1. Do Not Leave Them Unattended in a Non-secure Location
Leaving your pet unattended is the number one scenario that leads to pet theft. Don’t leave them tied up outside of a store or restaurant (even if it’s just for a second, even if the business provides “dog parking”). Anyone can easily come by, untie them (or just unclip them from the leash), and disappear into the crowd. And you think your dog would warn passersby that a stranger is taking them? Think again. Some dogs are so friendly they’ll willingly go with anyone – or at least not struggle or tip anyone off that something is amiss.
Other places not to leave them alone:
Dog park – not only is it not safe for your dog, it’s not safe for other dogs.
Car – I can’t tell you how many cases I’ve followed of dogs being left in a running car and the car gets stolen. People do this a lot when they want to leave the A/C on for the dog. Also, don’t underestimate the power of a well-meaning good Samaritan who thinks the dog is in distress or has been abandoned and may try to help or rescue your dog out of the car.
Yard – this is tricky because you’re probably thinking, “ummm… but we have our yard precisely for our dog!” Yes, I know. But here’s the thing: people aren’t deterred by a simple fence anymore. You need to make sure your fencing is high, your gate is locked, and you have cameras. And definitely never leave your dog out alone in a non-fenced in yard!
2. Know Your Pet Care Provider
Cases of pet care providers (sitters, walkers, groomers, doggie daycare) stealing or selling pets are less common, but it happens, especially with relatively new or unknown providers like those you might hire through an app. It’s extremely important that you ask for personal recommendations and thoroughly vet anyone who you entrust with your pet’s care and who will be left alone with them. When using a new provider, ask a neighbor or someone near your pet to keep an eye out. Let them know you’re using someone new and that they should tell you if anything looks weird or you don’t see the pet for awhile. When using a new groomer or doggie daycare, ask to sit in the lobby for a little while before you leave to observe general happenings – and to let them know you’re watching. Click here for more on how to select a doggie daycare.
3. Get a Home Security System & Use It
Another way pets get stolen is during home invasions and burglaries. To thwart would-be criminals altogether, practice common safety like locking your doors and windows, leaving lights and TVs on when you’re not home, and making sure your outer fence is locked. I also recommend you take it one step further and install a home security system. There are tons of options out there, from systems that are fully integrated and must be installed by a professional to cameras you can put up yourself and monitor from your phone. The thing to keep in mind is you want to have a mixture of deterrents (lights, alarms, etc.) and recording equipment in case the thief is successful. Make sure you have all angles covered so if you come home and your pet is missing, you can easily tell if the criminal took him with them or if he escaped during the crime. Not to mention, having clear footage of a thief makes it easier for the police, and way more likely that the local news will run the story.
Oh, and once you have your system all set up, make sure you use it! There’s no worse feeling when you were robbed and your pet is missing than looking at your home security system that would’ve worked had you changed the batteries and armed it.
4. Walk Your Pet on a Leash
Another way thieves are able to steal pets is by grabbing them when they are off-leash. Even if you are with them, there’s still not much you can do if someone takes you by surprise. A criminal who is watching you and your pet without your knowledge only needs seconds to grab the pet and throw them into a waiting car. It’s possible a thief can still go after a leashed pet (this tends to happen when children are walking the pets) but leashing them makes them a far less desirable target.
5. Carry a Deterrent on Walks
Because criminals can be brazen, you might want to carry a deterrent with you on walks. For example, we have pepper spray clipped to all of our leashes. Obviously, it’s a last resort kind of thing because pepper spray always has the potential to come back on you, but it could be a lifesaver for you or your pet. You could also try a loud whistle or other noise-making device, as well as other personal defense tools.
I think it can be difficult for people to prevent theft because they don’t like to think about worst case scenarios, but preparation truly is the key to prevention. So take some time now to think through what you can do to reduce your pet’s risk of being targeted.