It’s every pet owner’s worst nightmare: one moment your pet is there, and the next he’s gone. It’s estimated that two million pets are stolen in the United States every year. Even the briefest lapse in attention can give a thief the chance to swoop in and lure or carry your pet away, and it seems that many will seek out that one moment you have your back turned.
There are countless different motives for someone to steal a pet. Money is often the greatest motivator: the criminal could be someone who plans to “find and return” the pet to you later to collect a hefty reward, someone who steals and sells purebred dogs for thousands of dollars, or even a disgruntled neighbor who’s tired of your cat coming into her yard. Whatever the motive, you must act as quickly and strategically as possible to locate and recover your pet.
This guide will help you create a plan so that in the event that your pet is ever stolen, you’ll know exactly what steps to take next. It will discuss theft prevention and what to do if your pet is stolen from your home, while you’re traveling with your pet, or in a public place. The most important thing to remember is to act quickly, so the moment you even suspect your pet has been stolen, take action!
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Stolen from Home
There are quite a few precautions you can take to reduce the chances of your pet being stolen from your home:
- Never let your pet wander freely in an unfenced yard or around your neighborhood. Even a cat that almost always stays in your yard could get caught up chasing a rabbit and dart across the street, only to be nabbed by a stranger. Stick to outdoor containment systems for your fresh air-loving felines and fences that will keep your dog safely and effectively enclosed.
- Your dog, cat, and any other house-roaming pets should have collars with proper identification that they wear at all times.
- Ideally, your pets should also be microchipped; this is especially important if he is stolen by a seller and quickly sold to an unknowing buyer — once the buyer takes him to the vet, the microchip will be checked.
- Never leave your pets outside while you’re away from home, even if it’s just for a quick trip to the store or if the pet is tethered to a tree.
- Put a bell or an alarm on your backyard gate so you hear visitors or trespassers the moment they enter your property.
- Keep your gate locked any time you aren’t expecting guests. Make sure the lock and any chains are up high so the ground can’t be used as leverage with bolt cutters.
- If you have a doggy door, lock it when you leave the house.
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Unfortunately, sometimes despite your best efforts, someone still finds a way to grab your pet and run before you realize what’s happened. If your pet is stolen, call the police immediately. They might take your statement over the phone or they may send someone to your house so you can file an official report. Give as much information as possible, including whether or not you saw someone making a getaway and if you have any idea who it may have been. Next, call animal control and a few nearby shelters in case the thief panics and ditches the pet.
As soon as you’ve made the appropriate calls (and you can ask a loved one for help to speed up the process), start looking for your pet on foot. If he’s close enough to hear your voice, he may attempt to get away from whoever took him. Recruit friends to help you search the neighborhood, and talk to your neighbors about any suspicious cars or people they may have seen. Show people recent photos of your pet from various angles to give a good idea of what he looks like.
Create and put up fliers around your neighborhood and at local shelters, veterinary offices, church community boards, and parks. Include multiple recent photos of your pet,his name, breed, a general physical description (especially if your photos aren’t in color), and a contact phone number. Offer a reward but don’t specify an amount. You might consider noting that he needs specific medical attention — even if it isn’t true, it might garner a swifter response from neighbors who may have seen something helpful and it might even deter his captor from keeping him.
If your immediate search turns up empty, don’t give up hope. In the coming days and weeks, keep an eye out for newspaper and internet ads on websites like Craigslist and Hoobly for animals that could be your pet. Some stolen pets are sent across state lines to avoid suspicion, so broaden your search as much as you can. If you think you’ve found your pet and worry you may be getting into an unsafe situation, contact the detective you filed a report with and speak to her about arranging a supervised, controlled recovery of the pet.
Be cautiously optimistic if someone contacts you claiming to have found your pet. Ask about markings you didn’t mention on your poster or make up features that aren’t there to ensure you’ve got the right animal. If you’re convinced that it’s your pet, ask about how the caller found him but don’t make any accusations; remember, it’s possible that his original captor ended up abandoning him or selling him to someone genuinely unaware. If you have reason — or even just a gut feeling — that the caller may be a scam artist, agree to whatever is asked of you. Immediately contact the police or animal control to help you recover the pet safely; never go on your own.
Keep checking online and in the newspaper, and drop by the shelter every few days. It’s better to go in yourself than to call and give a description to a worker who may be busy and give you a hasty answer or may simply misunderstand your description and give you wrong information. Most importantly, don’t give up hope!
Stolen while Traveling
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The best way to prevent your pet from getting taken while you’re away is to keep him in sight no matter what. Don’t let him off his leash in open spaces, especially if there are other animals around. So many new smells, sights, and sounds can cause a dog to feel overwhelmed and flee unexpectedly, and the person who finds him may not be the noblest. Create special tags for his collar that include the information for your hotel or loved one’s home where you’re staying, as well as your cell phone number. When possible, make a trip to the vet right before your trip to ensure his microchip is up-to- date. It could also help to get some recent, hard copies of vaccination records — you may need them when traveling across state lines anyway, but they can also be important documentation to identify your pet as yours if he’s stolen and recovered.
If your pet is stolen while you’re traveling together, contact the local police department immediately. If he was stolen from your hotel, notify hotel staff immediately. Ask if you can find out if your room was accessed by someone else or if there are security cameras that might help you identify the culprit.
Search the area, and talk to neighbors or people nearby who may have seen the thief making his getaway with your pet. Make fliers with recent photos and your contact information, including the hotel’s address and phone number. Distribute them in the immediate area, then to local shelters, veterinary offices, and other community boards. Check in with local shelters in-person on a regular basis, and build a rapport with the staff. Make sure they have their own copies of photos your pet noted with your name, your pet’s name, and your phone number. If you can befriend them, you’ll boost their motivation to keep a sharp eye out for your pet and maybe even reach out to other shelters for you. Keep calling and checking in with them once you’ve returned home, and if you know anyone in the area, ask them to check in with the shelters when they can.
Immediately and regularly check local newspaper and online ads for your pet, broadening your search area as much as possible. You may find that there’s a border collie rescue group just one state over with a new intake who looks like yours! Keep checking and spreading the word as much as you can before you go, and continue following up after you’ve left the area.
Stolen in Public
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Preventing your pet from getting swiped while you’re in public comes down to constant supervision and attachment. He should be kept on a leash at all times, even if it’s just a neighborhood stroll. It’s OK to let him run and play while you’re at the dog park, but be sure to keep him in view at all times. Don’t get too caught up in chatting with other park-goers; you never know who may be keeping an eye out, especially for an expensive purebred. And never leave your pet in your car unattended. Not only is it a major risk to his life, it makes him an easy target.
If your pet is stolen from a public place, immediately talk to everyone around you. Find out who remembers seeing your dog at any point, and if anyone saw someone else near him. If you’re at a café or restaurant, let management know (but keep in mind they aren’t liable) and find out if there are security cameras they can access. If you’re with friends, have them help you canvass the area. Call the police and talk to them about filing a report. You may have to return to the location he was taken, but first devote some time to a thorough search of the area. If you create enough of a buzz, his captor may get skittish and let him go or drop him off at a shelter.
Once you’ve followed up with staff and police as necessary, proceed as you would if he were stolen from you home. Remain vigilant, and make sure people throughout your area and the surrounding region are notified with your pet’s photo and your contact information.
Remember: the quicker you respond after your pet has been stolen, the more likely you are to recover him. But don’t let yourself lose hope: pets have found their way back to their families across miles and many months!
Additional Helpful Resources
FidoFinder — Lost and found dogs in your area
TabbyTracker — Lost cat database
PetFinder — Narrow your search for your pet by breed, gender, location, and age
PawBoost — Send your lost or stolen pet’s missing poster to shelters, vets, & volunteers near you for free
LostFoundPets.US — America’s Lost & Found Pet Database