Every year, thousands of pets disappear from their homes, never to be seen or heard from again. Even when owners blanket neighborhoods and shop windows with flyers and pictures and offer rewards for helping them to find their loved ones, it is rare that anyone comes forward. It seems as if they have simply disappeared into thin air.
For many owners, it might come as a shock to learn that stealing and selling animals is actually a big business. That’s right–there are criminals out there whose job it is to hunt down unprotected pets and sell them to animal dealers and testing laboratories. Although shelters and the streets of some cities abound with dogs and cats, many dealers prefer domesticated varieties because they are healthier and easier to handle.
In addition, both the so-called puppy mills and those who sponsor illegal dog fights tend to favor popular breeds that aren’t usually found in shelters or that have otherwise been abandoned to the streets. Under the circumstances, residential neighborhoods and backyards, in particular, have become prime hunting grounds for those who make their living in this way.
Helping ensure your pet is not a victim
As a pet owner, it’s imperative that you know how to stop your pet from becoming one of the two million animals that are stolen from their owners each year. Unfortunately, local, state and federal laws aren’t especially helpful to those trying to eradicate this kind of activity, so prevention is key. Following the tips below can help reduce the chances that your cherished loved one will fall victim to this heinous crime:
Avoid leaving your pet unattended. Reports indicate that dogs and cats are typically stolen from yards and cars when the owner isn’t around. Allowing your pet to wander around an open backyard alone might seem like a good idea–after all, they need a bit of freedom, right?–but it increases the risk that she will snatched by thieves. If your pet is rarely inside, she should be securely fenced in. Needless to say, it is not a good idea to leave your pet unattended in the car or outside of a store.
Secure your home and surroundings. If you must leave your pet home alone, you should take steps to keep criminals at bay. In some communities, it is common for owners to leave doors unlocked during the day. More generally, many families tend to keep gates unlocked and assume that having a fence on the property is enough to ward off strangers. To animal thieves, this is like an open invitation to take your pet. You may also want to consider having a “bell” or alarm on gates to alert you when someone enters. Along with cameras, these can go a long way in preventing theft.
Consider microchipping or tattooing. Most owners know how important it is for their pet to have a collar and ID tags. While they can prove very helpful when a pet is lost, that is not the case when a pet is stolen. Most thieves will simply toss the tags in the trash and think nothing of it. In contrast, when an animal has been microchipped or tattooed, that makes things tougher for them, since shady dealers prefer animals that are untraceable. If you do have a microchip implanted, ensure you properly register it and keep copies of the paperwork handy for emergency situations.
Spay and neuter your pet. This may seem odd, but it stems from the fact that many pets are stolen to be bred. Puppy mills, for example, aren’t interested in dogs that can’t reproduce–it defeats the whole object. So, if someone ever approaches you about buying your pet or using her for breeding, tell them that she has been spayed (or neutered), even if it’s not true. For greater protection, of course, as well as other reasons, getting your pet spayed or neutered is a good idea.
If your pet is stolen
Even if you take the right steps, there is still a chance your pet could be stolen. If this happens, report the crime to law enforcement right away. Ensure you have photocopies of your pet’s medical records and up-to-date pictures so that you can prove ownership if your loved one is found. Contact shelters, veterinary offices, and grooming salons in your area and post reward flyers in the streets and on social media.
If you happen to see someone with your pet, don’t try to recover her yourself; call the police instead. Remember, law enforcement and various members community, including radio DJs, shelter managers, and newspaper editors can be your bes allies when such a tragedy strikes.