Dog theft is set to become its own crime
During lockdown we’ve seen the price and acquisition of dogs grow exponentially. Dogs have tripled in prices and more in some cases. The insatiable demand has drawn the attention of some unsavoury characters. To meet the demand for dogs more dogs have to be bred. While the Kennel Club keeps tabs on their registered litters, there are those who don’t care. These people are looking to breed dogs in volume rather than those of quality. To breed in volume these people needs dogs, the easiest way has been to steal dogs. Up until this point, Dog theft hasn’t been its own crime but now that’s set to change.
How covid changed Dog theft in the UK
Prior to COVID many dogs were bred but the market was much less competitive. In the fieldsports world, many breed from their working dog to continue a linage. Equally, private owners may wish to have a puppy from their dog as they have traits they’d like to have again. These pairings were often well thought out with other puppies going to friends or family.
As soon as COVID began we saw the instantaneous rise in those looking to buy dogs. Google tracked an 160% rise in people searching for puppies for sale. The pre covid breeder network wasn’t capable of supplying this increased demand. As prices rose so did the interest from criminals to try and get their slice of the action. With such a rapid rise and puppies becoming so competitive people were cutting corners to secure a dog.
Covid saw a direct spike in both dog ownership and dog theft. Dogs are stollen both to sell and to breed from to be passed onto unsuspecting customers. The unsuspecting customers have played a huge part in what’s become a complicated issue. The most popular breeds then attracted the attention of gangs in an effort to breed more of them. Labradors and Spaniels have been particularly vulnerable in this period of time.
What is a puppy farm
People often think that they’d be able to spot a puppy farm operation from a mile off. Unfortunately, these operations have become far more sophisticated than the name would suggest. They’re using nice homes and families as fronts to sell litters from. Often conjuring an image that the family dog is having a one off litter to lul in unsuspecting customers. The picture is painted that these puppies have come from loving homes but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Young dogs are planted to pose as the mum while puppy farm dogs are placed in the home.
These puppy farms are run on stollen and abused dogs either imported from abroad or stollen within the UK. If you’ve seen the Panorama documentary you’ll see that puppy farms are more local than you think. The Republic of Ireland in particular have a different legal perspective on the breeding of dogs. Bred in an agricultural format, these dogs rarely see human contact until their puppies are taken. These puppies are then distributed to their phoney breeders to pose as healthy dogs.
How the internet changed the Dog Theft problem
The internet has done amazing things but the sale of dogs isn’t one of them. There are hundreds of websites that charge nothing to pitch puppies for sale. Other than an email and a phone number little else is needed to start a listing for a litter. When the demand is as high as it has been, just a picture and a price are enough to garner interest. With litters selling out in an evening, people are paying large deposits upfront before ever seeing a dog. This is referred to as Dog Fishing and once the deposit is paid the seller goes quiet.
In the world of online shopping and next day delivery, the same is expected when it comes to dog sales. Some of these puppy farmers are delivering dogs directly to the customers. Using platforms like WhatsApp, these conversations and transactions are opened and closed without police being able to intercept them. For the police, this is the impossible part of the equation to solve. What they can police are the initial dog thefts and the subsequent breeding sites.
What the new legislation says
The current legislation sees dog theft as a loss of owners property. The new legislation looks to segment dog theft as its own crime with its own repercussions. This will see the penalty rise from the previous maximum of 7 years. The legislation looks to make selling a puppy more complex. This should ideally see online websites create more hurdles for breeders too. In particular, an integrated microchipping process should see prospective owners capable of checking a puppies legitimacy before purchase.
Streamlining these databases should also play a large part in recovering dogs when they are stolen. Being able to check any dog across all systems upon recovery will make the police’s job much easier. It should aid in the return of dogs that have been transported across the country or abroad. While there is yet to be a solid foundation for how the legislation will be applied, the propositions so far look very promising.
2020 saw over 2000 dogs stolen across the UK. These dogs were taken from peoples gardens, houses and cars in an indiscriminate matter. The current approach for addressing this has been too slow and too convoluted. The prospect of larger prison sentences and a smarter way of dealing with Dog Theft should hopefully deter some criminals. Giving consumers the ability to pre-check their puppy should pay huge dividends also.
With the demand hopefully thinning as we reach the new normal, the sale of any dog at any price will cease. Combined with more awareness, prospective owners should be armed with the tools to make better decisions. Asking the right questions is vital when it comes to buying a dog. You will learn a lot about the breeders and the sort of things they looked into before breeding their dog. Red flags should be raised if the breeder is only in it for the money.