Pet theft remains a terrible reality across the country. Often underlying these crimes are dogfighters seeking “bait” animals (as well as fighting and breeding victims), and dealers (aka “bunchers”) acquiring animals to sell to research laboratories or breeding operations. While stealth is the more usual approach, more brazen ruses are not unheard of, as in the recent case of three men posing as animal control officers in order to steal dogs from yards without arousing suspicion. Less organized motivations include kidnap/ransom attempts, animal hoarding, “revenge” by disgruntled neighbors, and spontaneous juvenile violence.
Animal theft is a crime. While a few states may specifically address the theft of animals (see for example, Michigan, New York, and North Carolina), it is a state’s general theft/larceny laws that are most often relevant to these crimes. A federal legislative effort to address Class B dealers selling stolen animals to research laboratories perseveres via the Pet Safety and Protection Act of 2011 / H.R. 2256.
What You Can Do
Be aware of the issue and your environment. Animals who are consistently and obviously left unmonitored are of course more vulnerable to pet theft (and other abuses), but all unattended animals are potentially at risk.
Be familiar with your neighborhood and its animals, and enable your neighbors to do the same. Where dog walkers and pet sitters are involved, encourage introductions so that suspicions are not misplaced.
If you live in a high crime area, invite your police precinct and/or a crime victim advocate from your local prosecutor’s office to address and advise your neighborhood.
Keep clear and current documentation connecting you with your animal(s) – this could include adoption papers, veterinary records, proofs of purchase for animal care supplies, and identifying photographs.
Keep contact information on animal collars and tags updated, using phone numbers and/or email addresses that are legible and reliable. Consider having your animal(s) microchipped. Talk with your local shelters and veterinarians to find out what microchip services and promotions are available in your area.
Have your animals spayed or neutered.
Educate your local newspapers and community on pet theft and the dangers associated with “free to a good home” ads by writing a letter to your local newspaper editor through ALDF's website. Encourage newspapers to help educate the public by establishing a “no free pet ads” policy and/or by running simple cautionary notices in the “animals” sections of their classifieds.
Should you or your neighbors suspect that they are witnessing the crime of pet theft, a 911 call is appropriate – the dispatcher will triage and route the call. Victims of pet theft should file formal written complaints with their local law enforcement and humane agencies.