Rise in dog thefts means owners need to be vigilant

By Meg McIntire

Last year, Lady Gaga’s dog walker and friend Ryan Fischer was shot and her two French bulldogs stolen after a violent altercation with robbers. The evidence suggested the suspects—four of which were documented gang members—were motivated by how lucrative the Frenchies would be to resell.

The pandemic has driven demand for pet companionship, and criminals see an increased opportunity and are cashing in. Pet theft is up 33% compared to last year, according to a CNBC report released in the spring. That’s why pet owners need to be extra vigilant to protect themselves and their dogs from falling victim to a crime.

Luckily Gaga’s dog walker recovered and the dogs were found and returned. However, most pet owners are not so lucky because thieves typically quickly resell stolen dogs for profit. It is estimated that about two million dogs are stolen each year in the United States and, sadly, only about 10% of these stolen dogs are reunited with their families.

Springtime was a particularly worrisome time for dog owners in Washington, DC. Four dognapping incidents occurred in broad daylight from mid-April to May. A one-year-old French bulldog and an 11-week-old Australian Shepherd were nabbed from their owners at gunpoint. A four-year-old golden retriever was taken while tied up outside a CVS in Capitol Hill, and another dog went missing from in front of a Giant Food.

The CNBC report featured a devastated pet owner from Wisconsin whose Cavapoo was stolen from his truck while he was in Home Depot; and another from Arizona whose four dogs and seven she fosters were stolen from her home.

The most stolen breeds are smaller, purebreds because they are easier and more lucrative to resell, according to the CNBC report. French bulldogs and Yorkshire terriers top the list. PetKeen, an online pet guide run by veterinarians, also reports that French bulldogs are the breed most likely to be stolen in the U.S because they can fetch up to $10,000 apiece.

Adopt-a-Pet.com, a national non-profit pet adoption service, issued an alert after Gaga’s Frenchies were stolen, calling on pet owners, law enforcement and tech companies to work together to protect pets.

“As reports of violent pet theft rise around the nation, it’s important for pet owners to be vigilant,” said Abbie Moore, chief operating officer. “At the same time, we call on online classified sites to up their screening game when accepting posts of pets for sale. Pet owners need powerful allies in this fight to protect their pets.”

And her message to pet buyers: “If you’re buying a pet from a classified ad or from an unknown seller and you suspect this may be a stolen pet, stay in touch with the seller and contact your local law enforcement immediately,” said Moore. “You can also check for lost pet ads that match the pet’s description. You’ll potentially be saving someone a big broken heart.”

The public needs to be aware that pet thieves can be crafty. They may respond to a “found pet” notice placed by a concerned animal-lover who finds a dog roaming their neighborhood. The thief poses as the pet’s owner and picks up the dog from the helpful neighbor, only to turn around and sell them.

Sometimes, they may even resort to “adopting” a pet from a shelter not with the intention of providing a loving home, but with plans to sell the animal for a profit.

Punishment doesn’t fit the crime

While you may consider your dog family, most state laws don’t agree, so dog thieves have little to lose. Pet theft most often falls under a state’s general theft and larceny laws, so stealing a pet isn’t distinguished in any way from taking a TV, jewelry or other possessions.

We’ve rounded up advice from pet experts to keep you and your furry friends safe.


Never leave your pets unsupervised in your yard, outside stores or in the car. It only takes a minute for criminals to make a move.

Be careful posting photos of pets on social media. Thieves are on the lookout for dogs, and your social media posts may also give clues to your location and daily habits

Be alert when walking. Pay attention to your surroundings. Thieves prey on people who are distracted by their phones.

If you can, pair up with other pet owners in your neighborhood for socially distanced walks.

Microchip your pets: It’s a quick, easy procedure offered by many veterinarians. If the animal finds its way to a shelter, staff there can scan the microchip and contact you. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, “a study of more than 7,700 stray animals at animal shelters showed that dogs without microchips were returned to their owners 21.9% of the time, whereas microchipped dogs were returned to their owners 52.2% of the time.”

Proof of ownership: Do you have documents that prove you own your dog? Make sure you can easily locate adoption papers, proof of purchase, and receipts from buying pet food and supplies. Be sure to have recent photos of your dog handy to help spread the word about your missing pet.

Consider a GPS collar: With a collar outfitted with a GPS tracker like the Cube GPS Tracker (cubetracker.com) or Fi (tryfi.com), you can always monitor your dog’s location and easily find them if they are from your yard or dash off while on a walk. If the GPS tracker remains attached to the dog’s collar and you’ve downloaded the corresponding app, you can pull up a map on your phone that will show the exact location of your pup and even track them in real time.