You open the back door to call your dog in, but he’s not there. Your heart pounding, you dash out to discover the gate gaping open, the latch and lock broken. With rising horror, you realize someone has entered your yard and stolen your best friend.
Unfortunately, dog theft happens all the time. It happened to us once. A man snuck between the fences that separate our house from our neighbor’s, jumped onto our deck, grabbed our dog and shoved him in a waiting car. By a lucky chance, our neighbor was upstairs in her reading nook and saw it all happen.
For many of us, our dogs are like our children. When something like this occurs, it can drop you to your knees. Your first impulse is to panic, and because it’s so hard to think clearly, you may have no idea what to do or where to turn.
Since our own dog was stolen – and later safely recovered, thankfully – I’ve become involved in stolen dog cases across the nation. Because of this, I have learned some helpful suggestions on how to handle a stolen dog situation.
1. Make sure your dog really has been stolen
It may seem I’m stating the obvious, but it is vitally important that you make absolutely sure your dog was actually stolen. There is a huge difference between a “lost dog running scared” and a “victim of dog theft”. Look for clues, ask potential witnesses, and comb the surrounding area. Does it look like his leash was clipped? Is there a hole in your fence? Are there neighboring buildings with outdoor cameras that you can ask to check? Stay calm and gather as much information as you can.
2. Sound the alarm
If you know your dog has definitely been stolen, use the clues you have gathered and get the word out quickly. Start with the police. Use Facebook and contact your local lost dogs website, Humane Society, Animal Control and other animal organizations. Their reach is far larger than yours. Create flyers – they reach far more people than you may realize. Not everyone is online. In fact, the majority of stolen dog cases are resolved through someone responding to a posted flyer.
3. Look at what’s been going on in your life
Are you going through a divorce? Do you have rough relations with your neighbors? Consider any uncomfortable situations you have been in lately and ask the tough questions – would someone you know steal your dog? Ask first. Now is not the time for making accusations.
4. Flyer some more
As you can tell, I’m very serious when I say “post flyers”. Print hundreds. Buy a ton of tape. Painter’s tape and masking tape is much cheaper than shipping tape and holds up fairly well, but shipping/packing tape is the strongest. Get help posting the flyers.
5. Create a social media campaign
Create a Facebook page specifically for help in saving your dog. Get support and thank people publicly on the Facebook page. If a company posts your stolen dog flyer, thank them. Create a jpeg (photo) and a PDF of your flyer. A PDF can be emailed to people and quickly printed. A jpeg is easy to share on social media. Talk about your emotions. Are you scared? Say so. You goal is to get people emotionally invested.
6. Don’t give up
Persistence often pays off, so don’t give in to despair if your dog hasn’t been recovered in a few days. Continue getting the word out, put up more flyers, keep your Facebook page active, etc.
While dog theft is increasing, there are lots of things you can do to keep your own canine safe. An ounce of prevention makes all the difference.
• Watch your dog. Keep an eye on him when he’s in your backyard. Theft can happen in the strangest ways. What if a passerby peeks over your fence and takes a shine to your dog? Perhaps someone saw you walking him and shadowed you home because he thinks your dog would make a nice gift for his girlfriend. You don’t want to become paranoid, but you need to be alert and aware.
• Don’t tie your dog up outside a store. It may be fun to take your dog along when you’re walking downtown to run some errands. But don’t do it. A friend of mine came out of a Walgreen’s recently to see someone untying her dog from a post. Her boyfriend stopped the would-be thief, but if they’d been a few seconds more, it might have been too late.
• Carry mace or pepper spray with you. I was recently involved in a stolen dog case in which a woman was jumped for her four-month-old pit bull. She was attacked by two men and thrown to the ground, and her puppy shoved in a car. He was recovered a month later. Avoid walking in isolated or poorly-lit areas and be prepared to protect yourself.
• Use a tie out, even in a fenced yard. If you are out with your dog in the backyard, and you have to go inside for a few minutes, either take him in with you, or use a tie out. I know this seems to defeat the purpose of having a fenced yard, but it can be one more deterrent to someone who comes over your fence and tries to grab your dog. Just don’t leave your dog tied up for more than a few minutes without supervision.
Okay, now breathe. I know this all sounds scary, but it doesn’t mean you should keep your dog in a bubble and not live your life. Just take precautions and be aware of your surroundings. Dog theft can and does happen, but you can do a lot to discourage it.