Monday mornings are always chaotic for us, and today is no different. It’s when we deal with enquiries that have come in over the weekend and it also when we receive updates on older cases. It’s now 11am and I have just finished a call with a very distraught dog breeder; she’d recently suffered a break-in at her kennels, during which six of the dogs had been stolen. Emma (not her real name) has bred Cocker Spaniels for more than 25 years and has never been the victim of a break-in before. She was understandably deeply traumatized by the theft and I spent the first 10 minutes just trying to calm her down so that I could obtain the full details of the incident. Over the next half an hour Emma explained what had happened; the thieves had raided the kennels during the night, cutting through chain-link fencing and snapping off padlocks with bolt croppers. The police had come and gone, saying that not much could be done given there were no suspects or suspicious vehicles seen. Perhaps, they had suggested, she should think about installing a CCTV system. “You are my last hope”, she sobbed. “I have no one else to turn to.”
Emma’s experience is typical of the dozens of similar incidents that occur every month across Britain in 2020, and most of these stolen dogs are never recovered. So where have all the stolen dogs gone?
Mistaken Belief of the Identity of The Thief
When a dog goes missing, particularly in a rural area, owners are often inclined to blame the travelling community for the disappearance. However, you might be surprised to learn that despite their unenviable reputation, in my experience (and this is on the basis of observation rather than national figures), the travelling community accounts for less than 25% of all dog thefts. I personally have visited numerous gypsy sites in my time, and they are not overrun with stolen dogs. When I enter these sites, I usually see working breeds; Terriers, Lurchers and Spaniels, whilst the latest figures released on dog theft (commissioned by a leading pet insurer) claim that the Staffordshire Terrier is the most frequently stolen dog in the UK. Not once have I seen one on a gypsy site.
If It’s the Most Stolen Breed of Dog in Britain, Who Is Stealing Them?
When we commence an investigation into a stolen dog, the first thing we do is identify which category of dog thief the perpetrator falls into. We introduced this strategy 15 years ago and it has proven to be an extremely effective means of both locating and recovering stolen dogs. The four categories we use are:
- The Opportunists
- The Specialists
- The Occupational List
- The Crazies List
Up until March 2020, ‘Opportunist’ dog thieves accounted for the highest number of stolen dogs in and around Britain. This category includes petty thieves who skulk around their neighbourhoods just looking to exploit any opportunity to steal. Their methods are crude but extremely effective; these heartless scumbags just grab and flee. It doesn’t matter whether the dog is tied up outside a shop, running loose in a park or in its owner’s garden. The Opportunist is a chancer, always looking to make some easy money – often selling the stolen dog to someone unfamiliar with the microchip laws.
In October, Bugsy, a three-year-old male Pug, was left outside a shop in Kilburn. He was snatched by a couple of teenage boys, who within 24 hours were offering him for sale on a local Internet site. Fortunately, Bugsy’s owners contacted us immediately and we managed to get him back. But not everyone is so fortunate.
The Opportunists also include those loathsome people who find a stray dog and simply keep it; making absolutely no attempt to contact the owner or alert the local authorities. We call this behaviour ‘willful blindness’ and sadly, ‘Theft by Finding’ accounts for a vast number of cases. When we confront this type of dog thief, we tend to hear the same excuse: “Oh! I thought the dog had been abandoned so I took it in.”
The only truthful part of this statement is ‘I took it.’ (Finders + Keepers = Dog Thief).
The next category we encounter is the ‘Specialists.’ This is the fastest growing category of dog thief and many of these specialists are linked to gangs of organised crime. Extremely lucrative returns and little risk of being caught makes is an attractive combination, and as a result, there has been a surge of offences committed by this type of thief. We believe that specialist dog thieves accounted for over 60% of all dog thefts in 2020; specifically targeting dogs kept in outdoor kennels. This category is populated entirely by career criminals who specialise in committing rural crimes. They usually work in small teams, use unregistered vehicles bought for cash and plan their attacks well in advance of the theft. Their methods include night-time raids on boarding kennels and breeders, home break-ins on part-time breeders and distraction offences where a bait dog — often a bitch in heat — is used to lure other dogs away from their owners. Specialist dog thieves have typically taken the stolen dog across several county borders within 24 hours of the theft, and often steal to order; targeting popular breeds or even singling out specific dogs. Most dogs stolen by Specialists are smuggled abroad or — tragically — end their days in puppy mills.
It was ‘Specialist’ dog thieves who stole Biscuit: a male Springer Spaniel. The thieves broke into our client’s home using a glasscutter only a few minutes after the dog minder had dropped him off, revealing that they had been watching the house, waiting to strike. We recovered Biscuit 18 months later, over 150 miles away, from a ‘convicted illegal dog breeder,’ the infamous John Lowe, who subsequently murdered his girlfriend and her daughter in a dispute over several dogs.
The Occupational List
The third category is the ‘Occupational list.’ These deceitful, double-crossing snakes have slithered their way into occupations that put them in regular contact with dogs. They then exploit this position in order to make a profit from stealing dogs that come into their care, often concealing their criminal activity behind a legitimate business enterprise such as a boarding kennel, dog walking service or registered breeder. In the last five years alone we have investigated: a dog warden who took bribes from the owner of a boarding kennel not to record the details of the dogs he recovered that were not microchipped; professional dog walkers who steal their client’s dogs, telling the owners that it has run off and breeders who steal back puppies they have recently sold. Most dogs stolen by this category of thief are resold to unsuspecting members of the public.
In 2011 we successfully lobbied an MP in Lancashire to force changes on a borough council that was not complying with the legislation on stray dogs. We discovered that the boarding kennel selected by the council to house strays was not scanning for microchips. We confronted the kennel owner — an aggressive and unpleasant little man — who ‘claimed’ his microchip reader was broken. We can only guess how many dogs he destroyed or sold on to innocent buyers.
The Crazies List
The final category is comprised of the most unpleasant people I have ever had the misfortune to deal with. And let me tell you, 14 years in CID and 15 years as a Private Detective has brought me into contact with some seriouslydisturbed people.
We call this category the ‘Crazies List’.’ This is where we place the loners, losers and misfits: dog-hating outcasts who lace pieces of salmon or meat with poison and leave it out on public footpaths; ex-lovers who, lacking the emotional intelligence to deal with rejection, scurry like sewer rats into their ex-partner’s home and sneak off with their dog. The ‘Collectors’, a term introduced by psychologists, describes the social misfits who prowl our neighbourhoods snatching unattended dogs from gardens and condemning them to a life of imprisonment; and, of course, the truly twisted individuals who steal dogs for dog fighting. The list is endless and most of the people in this category are extremely devious, calculating people who derive great pleasure from inflicting pain and suffering on other peoples’ dogs.
Police forces would be well-advised to keep a close eye on this category of dog thief as many of them will go on to commit similar crimes against people. The convicted double murderer John Lowe comes to mind; he had a history of animal cruelty and admitted — during his trial — to shooting numerous dogs and horses.
Will Things Get Better?
Knowing there are so many people out there motivated to steal your dog can be quite a depressing thought, however, there’s good news on the horizon. An increasing number of Police Forces are taking dog theft far more seriously and in the past 18 months we’ve completed several joint operations which have resulted in both the recovery of a large number of stolen dogs and successful prosecution of the offenders. In addition, there are now numerous country watch schemes in operation across Britain and more forces are introducing rural crimes teams to address the surge in dog theft.
Sadly, there’s a worrying trend among cash-strapped local authorities of sub-contracting their responsibilities to private companies — the same companies that collect household rubbish — which reduces the effectiveness of their dog recovery and regulatory services. Historically, dog wardens have been tasked with investigating complaints made against boarding kennels, dog walkers and breeders and sharing this intelligence with community police officers. This is an important role and it cannot be sub-contracted — those areas without dog wardens often see a significant increase in the number of offences.
What Can You Do to Protect Yourself?
We know there are a worrying number of dog thieves out there waiting for you to make a mistake in relation to the care of your beloved pet, so we strongly advise that you implement one or more of our recommended security precautions to help prevent the theft of your dog:
- Train your dog to come to heal; do not allow it to lag behind you on walks and never, under any circumstances, allow it to run off out of your sight.
- Do not leave your dog unattended in a car or insecure area such as a front garden or livery yard.
- Before you use a boarding kennel or day care centre, make a ‘freedom of information’ request to the local authority to request details of complaints made and the outcome of any investigations.
- Only use a dog walker who has been personally recommended to you. Always ask to see their liability insurance and, where applicable, their local authority license.
- Your dog has no value to an illegal breeder if it has been spayed or neutered, so don’t put off making the important decision of getting it done.
- Be careful about the information you chose to share about your dog or puppy on social media. Never post images of your dog with geo-referencing that allow others to locate it, and ensure historic posts don’t inadvertently reveal your address.
- Keep an eye on what is happening in your local area with regards to dog thefts, join dog walking groups, report any suspicious activity to the police and share any information about pets that are missing.
What Can We Do to Help You?
We are professional investigators with many, many years of experience recovering stolen dogs. We are largely considered to be the leading authority on dog theft in the UK and have worked with BBC’s Horizon and C4’s Cutting Edge teams, as well as ITV News, C5 Sky News and several national newspapers and radio stations.
Our aim is to eradicate dog theft in Britain entirely but in order to do this we need your help: every dog owner need’s to be our eyes and ears so if you suspect someone is in possession of a stolen dog or is involved in illegal dog breeding then please let us know immediately. We treat all information in the strictest of confidence and will never disclose your identity. You can contact us via our website, e-mail or by calling 01403 753463. We highly recommend you take a few minutes to read the checklist on our website to make sure you know what to do if your dog goes missing. We very much hope you won’t need it, but you may meet someone who does.
Finally, if you think you have been the victim of dog theft then please do contact us immediately. All calls to our office are free and there is no obligation for you to use our services after making an enquiry.
Although dog theft continues, together, we can make a difference.
The Pet Detectives