Dr. Trudie Prinsloo is a qualified veterinarian and attorney. In 2015, she started Legalvet services to provide legal advice to the animal and veterinary industries in South Africa – and now she’s teamed up with us to tell you how to protect your dogs from getting stolen.
This blog is intended for informational purposes only. dotsure.co.za is not responsible or liable for any advice or any other information provided herein.
I wish that dog thefts were not “a thing,” and there was no need to write about it. Unfortunately, it is a very ugly and real issue that highlights the dark side of humanity. As a dog owner, you know that dogs are so much more than just objects with financial value. They are sentient beings; we love them and interact with them as part of our family. Losing a dog is very traumatic, and losing a family must be traumatic for a dog too. Yet there is an increase in dog theft, not just in South Africa but in many countries across the world.
Why do criminals steal dogs?
Ironically, one of the reasons for the increase in dog theft is our love for them. Criminals have caught on to this and are exploiting it. We are willing to pay relatively large sums of money for a purebred dog or even a cute crossbreed puppy. This makes it a lucrative business for criminals. They steal intact dogs and use them as breeding dogs, steal entire litters of puppies to sell, and will even provide fake pedigrees if asked, and steal adult purebred dogs to resell.
A new way criminals exploit our love for dogs is to kidnap a dog and then demand a ransom from the owner. This recently happened in Cape Town and the part that is almost just as upsetting as the “dognapping”, is that the police alleged that a crime was not committed!
The most heart-breaking reason for dog theft is that dogs are stolen to be used for illegal dogfighting, either as bait or fighting dogs. The ugly truth is that it is common in South Africa.
Tactics used to steal dogs.
Dog thieves understand dog behaviour and use it to their advantage. They can read a dog’s body language and know which dogs are friendly and easy targets. They use food as bait, or they will lure intact male dogs by using a bitch in oestrus. Dogs in public places, such as parks and beaches, that are not on a leash are easy targets and thieves can make a dog disappear in seconds. But they don’t just stop there. They will steal dogs from your property, even cutting open steel fences to get to a dog they really want.
How to reduce the risk of your dog getting stolen?
- Be aware of the problem and always remain vigilant. Criminals prey on easy and unsuspecting targets.
- Do not take your dog's leash off in public spaces and make sure that your dog is trained to return to you on a recall command.
- Do not leave your dog unattended anywhere, not even for just a few minutes. This includes not leaving them in your car or tied-up outside a shop.
- If someone else takes your dog for walks, make sure that person can take care of your dog in public places. Some dog walkers take multiple dogs for walks at the same time, making them easy targets for criminals.
- Use social media very carefully. Posting about your new pedigree pup can be very tempting, but it could be seen by the wrong people. Also, be very careful about posting your location. Avoid providing any information that a criminal will find useful.
- Secure your property well and do not view your dogs as guard dogs (unless they are specifically trained for that) but rather see them as the ones that need to be protected.
- Sterilize your dogs. Not only are criminals more likely to steal intact dogs, but it is also easier for them to lure intact male dogs using a bitch in oestrus.
- Let your dogs sleep inside your house at night. Although dog theft happens in broad daylight too, most crimes are committed at night. Letting your dogs sleep inside reduces the risk of theft substantially.
- Make sure your dog is microchipped. This will not prevent theft, but it will help to identify your dog if it is found. It is also very helpful to always keep updated photos of your dog, especially showing unique identification features in case you ever need them.
- Get a GPS tracker collar for your dog. These collars are now commercially available and although they might be removed from stollen dogs, it might not happen immediately and could assist in recovering your dog.
Actions to take if your dog is stollen
- Immediately post an alert and request for help on all the social media platforms that you are active on. Make sure that you have recent pictures of your pet that you can post. Make your post stand out to make sure people read it, take note, and forward it. Post follow ups until your dog is found.
- Notify the SPCA and veterinary clinics in your area and make sure they have your dog’s pictures and microchip number. If your dog is not found, follow up regularly so that they know it has not been found yet.
- Notify the microchip service provider.
- Report the theft to the police.
Can anything be done to decrease dog thefts?
One of the biggest problems with dog thefts in South Africa is that it is not viewed as a serious crime. And even if a criminal were to be successfully prosecuted, the penalties are minor. In South African law, dogs are seen as property. There is no acknowledgment of the emotional bond shared between owners and animals. This means that it is a very low-risk, but high-reward crime. The situation in the UK is similar, but they have lobbied for more effective laws and penalties to deal with this problem and are about to pass these new laws. It is time to do the same in South Africa.
As pet buyers, we should also be very careful who we buy our pets from. Make sure you buy purebred dogs only from a reputable breeder whom you can visit to see where and under which conditions the dogs are kept. Do not buy puppies from children in the street or any people selling puppies on the street. As tempting as this is, it only makes the problem worse. Such cases must be reported to the relevant SPCA and police station. Please report any other suspicious activities and individuals to the SPCA and police too.