Sadly, dog theft in Australia is on the increase. It is a callous crime that strikes at the heart of families. The Coronavirus pandemic has led to a surge in new pet ownership and pet adoptions. Today more people are working from home and unfortunately, these new pet-parents do not always understand the needs of pets or take appropriate precautions or have suitable fencing. Unfortunately, some escapees are never returned to their rightful owners and fall into the category of theft by finding.
What is Theft By Finding?
“Theft by finding” is the result of a person’s chance finding upon an object or animal which has escaped or appears to be abandoned. These people take possession of the pet and fail to take reasonable steps to establish whether the pet is genuinely abandoned or merely unattended or lost. Often these pets are sold or bred from. This happens a lot more than you would expect and this inadvertently has sparked a steady rise in reported pet thefts.
Key Facts | Protect Your Pet Against Theft
Pets stolen from homes are often the result of being targeted by people that know they are there. Most thefts are by people acquainted with or related to the pet owner. It could be an estranged partner, friends, or relatives who may have a drug, gambling, or money problem. Tradespeople who have visited the property sometimes come back to “acquire” a pet or puppies. A pet theft often occurs after someone innocently mentions them to someone else who then says it to another party involved in dog trafficking.
Keeping Your Pet Safe
Many stolen pets have been left unattended in unsecured situations allowing them to be taken or escape from backyards, vehicles, shops and while out walking. The rise in pet thefts is blamed on the growing trend of owning “designer dogs”. The primary reasons behind the theft of pets, particularly designer and pure breeds, occurs for several reasons: relationship breakdown, theft for illegal breeding and sale on the black market. Whilst pedigree dogs are at the most significant risk due to the cost of purchasing pedigree puppies, non-pedigree dogs can also be targeted by opportunist thieves who wait for a reward to be offered. If somebody claims they have found your lost pet, ask specific questions to ensure the animal is yours – particularly if you are offering a reward.
Dog Fighting In Australia
In particular, dogs are often stolen for the purpose of breeding, dogfighting or end up as bait dogs. A bait dog is basically a punching bag for fighting dogs. Except dogs don’t punch, they bite and tear. Dog fighters use bait dogs to let their fighting dogs practice mutilating another dog, without being harmed in the process. Most Australians have no idea that dogfighting exists here and would be appalled and horrified to discover that this cruel practice is on the rise across the country.
Dogs that are stolen for illegal breeding or fighting, rarely receive veterinary care, as the animal’s welfare is not a high priority in these cases. If they receive any medical care, its usually in-house, minimal, and inadequate.
Microchipping Your Pet | Why It’s Important
The theft of young puppies is more desirable than adult dogs because puppies are rarely microchipped before being re-homed. Once the thief can get the pups out of the area, they can then be sold on the black market or taken to a vet for microchipping. Vets have no way of knowing puppies’ ownership and would not be aware that the pups are stolen. Once puppies are microchipped, this allows pet thieves to legally register and on-sell the pups.
The most effective and permanent method of electronic pet identification is microchipping. Chips are tiny – about the size of a grain of rice. They are implanted just under the skin, between the shoulder blades at the back of your pet’s neck. Each chip has its unique number that is detected using a microchip scanner. The microchip number is recorded on a database registry with details about the animal and owner. Should your pet become lost or stray, vets, animal shelters and local councils can scan your pet for a microchip and contact you via the database. It is important you know that chips only serve to identify the owners’ details and do not prove ownership under Australian law.
Beware of Unrecognised Pet Registry Sites
Microchips should only be registered with individuals that are state-approved as registry providers. There are some sites that advertise “pet registry” and claim to be recognised in Australia but are not linked to any Australian state, territory or national search databases.
Then there are the lost animals. It is not uncommon to hear that miniature breed pups have simply disappeared from backyards after been left alone even for just a few minutes. Fact: Australia is a country full of native predators. Snakes, lizards, dingos, hawks, and eagles, to name a few. They don’t understand that these tasty morsels running around in a backyard are our beloved pets. They can and do take them in the blink of an eye, and often with no sound or remaining evidence.
Pets escape backyards through poorly erected fencing, gaps under or around gates, by digging under or jumping fences. These are often pets that are; a) relegated to a life in the backyard with little interaction, b) terrified of storms or loud noises, c) pets that just do not like being shut away from activity.
Is Eating Dogs or Cats Illegal in Australia?
Under Australian state laws with the exception of S.A., it is not illegal to eat dog or cat meat. There have been past cases of domestic pets being used as a food source in some restaurants as well as in private homes. Some of the demographics in Australian areas cater to cats and dogs being taken for human consumption, although it is not widespread or publicised.
What Can You, The Owner Do, To Protect Your Pet?
a) Keep your pets off social media. By ‘introducing’ your pets to your breed specific page, dog lover’s group or even just on your own page, you are advertising that you have the dog or pups. From there, it is merely a matter of the potential thief researching to find out where you are.
b) Always ensure your pets are microchipped (with up-to-date details), registered with your local council, collars with ID tags containing your contact number/s, and de-sex your pet as soon as is reasonable if you are not a registered breeder. Pedigree and designer breed pets are often stolen for breeding purposes. If they are de-sexed, that reason no longer exists.
c) Keep up-to-date photos and proof of ownership readily available so that in the event your pet is lost or stolen you can provide evidence of your legal ownership. Make a note of any distinguishing features. Microchips are not legal proof of ownership in Australia. Pets have been and still are transferred to new owners despite being microchipped.
d) Never leave miniature, small, or young animals in a yard by themselves. As previously stated, our native predators can and do make very short work of puppies and kittens. Eagles can carry large weights, so a 3kg or less pup or kitten is nothing, and if the winds are right, they can use the thermals to take even larger prey of 4 to 5 kg. If someone targets your property to steal your pet, leaving them alone, even for a few minutes is often enough time for someone to jump the fence or open a gate to get to it.
e) Consider why you have a pet and how that pet will interact with your family. A pet should be part of your family and protected and nurtured just like your human family. Do not leave your dogs in the backyard or allow your cats to wander freely. As part of your family, include your pets indoors and take on family outings where possible. Always keep pets in a safe, secure, and comfortable environment. Dogs that tend to escape or cats that wander or ‘disappear’ are often left to their own devices and not included in the family activities. Dogs are social animals and need that contact. Cats can cause a large amount of destruction to native fauna and are highly at risk of being hit by vehicles, attacked by dogs or taken by native predators. Pet owners have a responsibility to contain them properly and safely.
f) If you know there are storms forecast or fireworks or similar, secure your pets indoors with you or at least in a safe indoor area of the house especially if you are not going to be home. Consider crate training for your pet as it can provide a ‘safety zone’ for short periods of time. If you cannot have your pet indoors while you are out, consider installing a lockable fully fenced dog run that has wire mesh under artificial turf and wire mesh over the top. This will prevent your dog from digging or climbing out.
g) Wherever possible, do not leave your pets outside when you are not home. Thieves will generally look for the easiest options, and breaking into homes is usually the last option. If you cannot leave your pet indoors, ensure that your yard is well fenced, and gates are padlocked. Consider security cameras as a deterrent and for use if your pet goes missing.
h) Keep your dog on a leash when you go for a walk.
i) Never give a pet away for free or use “free to good” home ads when looking for a new home for your pet.
What Missing & Stolen Pet Investigators Australia Can Do To Help You
When you discover your pet is missing and you initially contact the Missing & Stolen Investigators Australia Facebook page, they will ask you some questions to ascertain if your pet has escaped or been stolen. They will ask you about your pet’s environment, the type and quality of fencing and gates? Is the pet indoors or outdoors?
If it is clearly a forced entry of some description, they will ask the questions that get the owner looking at family, friends and acquaintances. Could it be someone known to the owner and if so, how? If it is unclear if the pet has escaped or been taken, they will recommend that you doorknock your street and the surrounding areas. Ask residences, businesses and community centres like hospitals, schools, and sporting facilities for possible CCTV or whether they have seen anything unusual.
Next letter drop the area, post flyers on community boards and contact vets in the immediate and surrounding areas, RSPCA Lost and Found and personally visit pounds within your council area. Not all animals are taken to the closest pound/refuge, and often descriptions are incorrect in their systems. Remember, not all microchips are correctly scanned, and not all procedures are followed 100% of the time.
Facebook Page Creating Awareness About Pet Theft in Australia
Missing & Stolen Investigators will create a post and publish on their page and their sister pages which their followers then share throughout the country. They will help you identify persons of interest and follow up with direct contact with those persons via telephone or social media. Instruct you on how to lodge a report with the police if they establish it was definitely a theft. Assist you in communicating with police and legal representatives via conference calls and personal attendance if possible.
Create viral media campaigns that use social and mainstream media to get the word out. Provide emotional, psychological and in some cases, physical support for the owners from start to finish. Their team believe strongly in the mandate of reuniting pets with their owners “free of charge” and will help to spread the word via the Facebook page Australia wide.
Campaigns Supports By Missing & Stolen Pet Investigators Australia
Missing and Stolen Pet Investigators Australia actively back campaigns to have microchip details recognised as pets’ formal ownership. They advocate mandatory scanning of all animals in pounds, veterinary clinics, rescues, and refuges. They feel that as many states by law demand pets are microchipped and that these details should be sufficient to prove ownership. Therefore, councils and rescue organisations must scan for chips and abide by those ownership details unless there is absolute proof the animal has been removed from the owner for welfare reasons, or the owner has consensually re-homed the pet.
Toxic Poison 1080 Baiting
They also back campaigns to have the toxic poison, 1080, banned from use in this country. They actively alert their members to the many incidences of poisonings by 1080 baits and any confirmed animal cruelty or neglect cases that come to attention. They always put the welfare of pets and wildlife before all else.
Animal Basic Rights
Missing & Stolen Pet Investigators Australia also support campaigns such as that of the Animal Justice Party seeking to have animals renamed from pets to companion animals. Currently, the ACT is the only territory in Australia that recognises animals as sentient beings under the law. The laws recognise an animal’s right to food, water, shelter, clean living and health care. They believe that animals should be federally recognised across Australia as sentient beings with all the associated rights and protections.
Stay Positive and Keep Looking
Don’t lose hope if your pet is stolen. Continue to monitor websites, social media groups and pages, vets, pounds and community boards as your pet may be in the care of people who do not know they are in possession of a stolen pet.
Dog Theft Awareness
Although dog theft is sadly a reality today, awareness of the problem and the use of deterrents is the key to reducing the risks of pet theft in Australia. It is every pet parents responsibility to ensure their animals are fed, have access to fresh drinking water and protected from the elements.