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In just a few seconds, your dog or cat could be taken–snatched from your yard or dragged off of your front porch–only to be sold to research laboratories, used as fighters or bait in dog fighting rings, or “flipped” for profit. In fact, in the time it takes you to read this sentence, someone could have stolen your pet.
Since many pet thefts go unreported, it’s impossible to know exactly how many animals are taken but, historically, an estimated two million pets are stolen in the United States each year.
Pet Theft Awareness Day
Observed annually on February 14–also known as Valentine’s Day, which sees a considerable uptick in pet thefts–LCA first created National Pet Theft Awareness Day in 1988 to raise awareness for the issues of pet theft and to educate the public about how to keep their companion animals safe from unscrupulous thieves.
Common Reasons for Pet Theft
Reward: One of the most common reasons for pet theft, “dog flipping” occurs when dogs are stolen for the purpose of being sold for profit. Stolen dogs are typically resold to unsuspecting new owners, to puppy mills, or to backyard breeders where they are continually bred so their offspring can then be sold for profit. Dogs raised in by backyard breeders or in puppy mills do not receive adequate veterinary care and are often forced to live in deplorable living conditions.
Medical Research: USDA licensed Class B animal dealers obtain dogs and cats from random sources like animal pounds/shelters (this is known as pound seizure), other B dealers, “bunchers,” backyard breeders, or by stealing them from unsuspecting owners, only to turn around and sell them to medical research laboratories. In 2016, 820,812 animals were used in research labs in the U.S., roughly 60,797 of which were dogs. LCA’s groundbreaking undercover investigations into Class B dealers helped expose and shut down numerous dog dealers, such as C.C. Baird, as well as Barbara Ruggiero, Frederick Spero, and Ralph Jacobsen, leading LCA to become the first animal rights group to procure state and federal prison sentences for Class B dealers in 1991. (Click here to learn more about Class B dealers.)
Dog Fighting Rings: Although the vast majority of dogs are taken for the purpose of being resold or bred, many are also stolen to be used as fighters or as bait in illegal dog fighting rings. As of 2008, dog fighting is a felony offense in all 50 states (as well as in D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Virgin Islands). In most states, possessing a dog for the purpose of fighting is also considered a felony. (Click here to learn more about dog fighting rings.)
How to Protect Your Pets
Keep your pets indoors, especially when you are not at home. Do not leave your pets unsupervised in your yard; it only takes a minute for thieves to steal your beloved companion animals. Keep your pet on a leash and do not let your pet roam free in your neighborhood. Never leave your pet alone in a car.
Properly identify your pets with a collar, tag, and microchip.
Ensure your pets are spayed and neutered; fixed animals are less likely to wander away from home.
Keep recent photos and written descriptions of your companion animals on hand at all times, and maintain up-to-date records and licenses on all of your pets.
Be aware of strangers in your area and report anything unusual, such as suspicious neighborhood activities or a surge in missing pets, to local police and animal control.
What to Do If Your Pet Is Stolen or Goes Missing
Call the police; if your pet is stolen, ask to file a report so there is a record of the theft.
Contact your local animal control department, animal shelters, and pounds in your area. You can also file a lost pet report with each shelter.
Canvass your neighborhood and put up “missing” flyers/posters with an up-to-date photo of your dog along with accurate contact information.
Search online “lost dog” websites (such as Craigslist or Center for Lost Pets) to see if someone has found your pet.
Be aware of scams! People may claim to have your pet and insist on a reward before turning the animal over to you. If a stranger calls saying they’ve found your pet, make sure they give you a very detailed description of your pet.