Dog theft in the U.S.: Rumor versus fact and how to protect your dog

March 21, 2015

The topic of dog theft in the U.S. has spread like wildfire on social media over the past several years, leaving many communities in a panic. Is the problem as great as everyone makes it out to be? Well, yes and no.

One of the most popular viral rumors going around this year is the one about a plastic bag being tied around a tree, thus marking the property of an owner who dog will be stolen. Major news media have even retold the story over the past month or two. Is is true, or a he-said, she-said everyone knows someone this has happened to kind of thing?

According to a February 2015 report by

“The rumor traveled to the U.S. in early 2015, when it emerged in the form of a warning involving plastic bags tied to trees as a harbinger of dognappers. According to the rumor (circulated widely on Facebook), criminals marked dog-owning homes by tying grocery bags to trees so pets could later be kidnapped for dogfighting rings. There was no explanation of how those who became wise to the purported ruse managed to differentiate bags purposefully tied to trees for signaling from discarded grocery bags that coincidentally came to rest among the branches after being blown about by wind. And as with prior variations, no instances in which pets were abducted were tied to plastic bags mysteriously found in trees prior to their disappearances.”

The rumor about dogfighters targeting homes to steal dogs to use in dogfighting began as early as March 2012, when a man named Michael Burdis was said to be wanting dogs from shelters to use in dogfighting. This rumor began on the Scruples Whippet Rescue page.

Snopes, however, was unable to find any evidence that someone named Michael Burdis is (or was) being investigated by the RSPCA in connection with dogfighting activities, and the Scruples Whippet Rescue notice states only that someone using that name inquired of them about some dogs via Facebook.

The rumor continued, moving on to Perth, Australia in February 2013. By March it had traveled to the U.K., and finally arrived in the U.S. in February 2015.

As for dog thefts being up, that one is a bit trickier, as numbers for 2014 are unclear, but states that in 2013, the AKC has tracked more than 590 pet thefts from news and customer reports, a 31% increase over 2012.

According to the American Kennel Club Dog Lovers website, pet theft up until mid-2014 was on the rise and has been since 2008. AKC statistics gathered by the AKC CAR National Pet Theft Database state that

2008: 71 dogs
2009: 162 dogs
2010: 255 dogs
2011: 444 dogs
2012: 458 dogs
*(27.8% increase from 2012 to 2013 Jan-May)

The Top 5 breeds stolen in 2013 in this order: Yorkies, Chihuahuas, Poms, Lab, and Frenchies. These statistics may be incorrect, as many dogs may be stolen, and the owners never report the theft. So even official charts may not tell the true story.

Whether the primary reason dogs are stolen for use in dogfighting or for dogflipping isn’t mentioned. The statistics aren’t broken down into geographical areas, so there’s no way to know whether more dogs are stolen from a particular area.

Which means we all have to be aware of the danger, without becoming too paranoid by rumors started on social media. A few tips for dog owners to remember are to

*Have your dog microchipped, and keep the tag from the microchip company attached to the collar to deter thieves
*If your dog lives outdoors, have a tall, secure fence that locks and be sure to use the lock
*Keep a current photo, as well as vet information in a safe place, because if your dog is stolen and then recovered, you’ll need proof of ownership
*Be aware that other breeds are stolen besides the five listed here. In the south, a lot of pit bulls and husky breeds are taken
*Consider leaving your dog inside your home when you’re not there to keep an eye on an outside dwelling dog. In other words, don’t leave your dog unattended, including inside a car or tied up outside a store while you go inside to shop

If your dog is stolen, contact the police, as well as local animal control. Ask what shelter dogs in your area are taken to when picked up. Be your own detective and make flyers and visit neighbors. Many dogs reported missing are actually stolen, and fast action could mean the difference in getting your dog back or never seeing your dog again.

Are there certain areas in the U.S. that tend to get hit harder than others by dog thieves? Have you personally had a dog stolen? In your personal opinion, do you believe dog thefts are up? Please leave a comment.

And don’t believe everything you read on Facebook.


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