Having something stolen is always upsetting but when what you lose is a faithful companion the situation is much worse. Dog theft prevention is important for owners of working dogs and pets alike.
Labradors and cocker spaniels continue to be the two most popular breeds of dog in Britain – and where there is desirability, crime is never far behind. Growing concern over gundog theft keeps us awake at night, but putting hard figures to our fears is difficult. About 50,000 dogs a year are officially reported to insurance companies as “lost” – but what percentage of these have been stolen? Strangely, twice that number of stray dogs are picked up each year. The lines between strayed, abandoned, lost, found and stolen make dog theft almost impossible to police.
There has always been a tendency for even normally law-abiding members of the public to “find” the cuter kind of spaniel or a cuddly labrador. One of my cockers was “found” one morning as she worked a hedge alongside a quiet lane. I reached the gateway just in time to catch the family stowing her in their hatchback, “to take her to the RSPCA”. But when your top field trials-bred pup is “found” from the kennel at midnight through use of a bolt cutter and the other dogs are ignored, you know that your dog has been stolen, probably to order.
Short of personal, physical attacks on ourselves or our children, having a dog stolen is really the worst crime that any of us are likely to experience. When the house is burgled or the car broken into, or your mobile phone nicked, it is bad enough, but you have lost inanimate objects, even though precious. You are not left wondering whether your flat-screen telly is missing you, or the laptop is being well-treated or used for puppy farming. Most working gundogs are loved family members, and often valued throughout the wider country community – something the police would do well to remember when responding to dog theft reports.
But dog theft is a crime with a broad spectrum. At one end of the scale is the parent who finds a straying dog and, unable to resist the family’s pester-power pleas of “can we keep him”, doesn’t report it. That family should be aware that this in itself is a criminal offence. All “found” dogs are deemed stolen unless reported to police or the local authority dog warden, and these are the people to contact first if your dog has been stolen.
If the worst happens, put your emotions to one side for the moment and approach the situation as a military campaign. Work through the step-by-step list below, adding as many contacts as you can think of. Take action instantly. The quicker you move and the more people who know what has happened, the more difficult you are making it for the thief to sell the dog on.
If the dog has gone missing for innocent reasons, working through your plan should bring you news, perhaps within a couple of hours. Another alternative is that the dog has been dognapped, which is unpleasant but resolvable. The thief will approach you through a third party, “claiming the reward”. Find an intermediary to do the deal to avoid things getting personal. The worst outcome is that the dog has been stolen to order and is already far down the illegal trade chain before you can intervene.
Ultimately, the only way to fight this crime is to prevent it. Microchipping and kennel security are obvious musts on a personal level, but in the gundog world we are lucky to be part of a whole registration system that will work to make theft much harder, as long as we support the system ourselves. All pure-
bred gundogs are Kennel Club (KC)-registered by their breeders. In order to trial or breed registered litters from a top dog, the paperwork must be in order. So, once a top dog is detached from its paperwork, its value is reduced instantly to that of a pet. That loss of value can be the difference between £5,000 for a top FTCh stud or bitch to as little as £50 for a pet sold in the pub.
Papers can be faked, but new legislation is making this increasingly difficult. If we as owners and buyers are scrupulous about following through on paperwork, stealing gundogs will be much less attractive for criminals.
That means you must never buy a puppy or dog without being sure of its origins and having the correct paperwork. When you get the paperwork, make sure you re-register the dog in your name immediately – this is when faked papers will come to light. Looking at my own page on the KC website recently, I was appalled to see how few of the non-trialling buyers of my pups had bothered to register the new ownership. Do this – if you don’t you are making it easier for someone to steal your dog.
The Animal Welfare Act of 2006 has made it a lot harder to steal a docked breed, but only if responsible owners and breeders obey the law. Any docked puppy must have a docking certificate signed by the vet who performed the operation and giving its full details. The puppy must also be microchipped within three months and, again, the paperwork must match up. So any docked puppy or young dog you buy from now onwards should have this paperwork, and when you take it to your vet for the first time, he should also ask to see the paperwork. If he doesn’t, raise it with him and encourage him to scan newcomers routinely. If all owners and vets were meticulous about this, gundog theft would be much less lucrative because the crime would be discovered as soon as the dog visited a vet for a routine vaccination.
Anybody planning to enter field trials or breed has to be scrupulous about paperwork and pedigrees, but even if your new gundog is going to be little more than a pet, ensure that he is in the system and make sure you keep him there. With gundog theft it’s a case of, “if you aren’t part of the solution, you are part of the problem.”
Have your dog microchipped by your vet, who will register you with The Kennel Club’s Petlog scheme (www.petlog.org.uk). The basic fee is £2 but it is worth upgrading to the premium service for £10.
- Create a “dog log” including your dog’s paperwork and decent recent photographs together with a list of contact phone numbers: Petlog, local dog warden (visit www.ndwa.co.uk), the police, local vets and rescue centres, gundog training clubs, dog breeders and pet shops. Do this now – if the worst happens it will enable you to react fast, which hugely improves your chances of recovering the dog.
- Use a collar stating that your dog is chipped (legally you should also add your name and postcode). Keep kennels secure and display a large notice inside the kennel stating that all dogs are chipped. Consider night-activated sodium security lighting.
- Never let your dog roam alone at home or in the field (obviously gundogs don’t do this anyway).
- If your dog is stolen report the crime to the police and inform all the contacts on your dog log.
- Distribute posters and flyers offering a reward for information (first check with your local council that you are not contravening a by-law). Petlog’s website has a facility to generate posters.
- Consider using a pet detective or animal search website. These include: www.lostlabs.com; www.doglost.co.uk; and www.animalsearchuk.com.
- Help reduce dog theft by never buying a dog or puppy without all of the correct paperwork, encouraging your vet to scan all dogs routinely, visiting the Dog Theft Action website and the RSPCA’s anti-puppy trafficking campaign.