Dog Thefts: How Private Investigators Can Help Pick Up the Scent

Dog Thefts

Anyone who spends any time on social media – particularly Facebook – will be aware of the increased discussion and visibility of dog theft. Over the course of the Coronavirus pandemic, it often seemed that timelines and post feeds were filling with both desperate appeals for the return of beloved four-legged friends, and with fearful reports of suspicious vehicles cruising through neighbourhoods.

Some commentators likened the sudden community focus on dog thefts to a moral panic – in other words, a spike in public anxiety caused by the fear of a decay in the standards of society – where the combination of pandemic stress and a heightened awareness of news, community and home activity might lead to a state of collective paranoia; where a generalised sense of increased vulnerability caused by the virus might manifest as increased concern for Man’s Best Friend. After all, our streets and parks couldn’t possibly, suddenly, be filled with evil dog-nappers, could they?

The statistics prove that this spike in awareness of dog thefts is not a moral panic. In fact, there has been a clear and disturbing increase in cases of dog theft during 2020, which shows no signs of slowing down in 2021. The insurance provider, Direct Line, reported that there was a 19% increase in the crime during lockdown, and reunion only happened in 22% of those cases[1]. Not every unmarked van seen driving slowly through our streets is on a dog theft mission, because lockdown also saw an increase in the use of delivery services, of course. But the point is, the increased fear of dog theft is not unfounded, and is not the transference of pandemic stress – it is a response to the very real increase in this type of crime.

Why are people stealing dogs in greater numbers?  

People have always engaged in dog theft, just as people have always engaged in theft of everything. Theft has long been a specific risk where pedigree dogs and particular breeds are concerned, because these are animals with an especially high re-sale value, can be used to generate money through breeding, or are used to generate money through fighting. The overall increase in dog thefts has resulted in an increase in risk to these types of dog, certainly, but the scope of dog thefts has broadened to increase risk to any type of dog, to a degree.

While the most commonly stolen dog remains the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, breeds including Cocker Spaniels, Labradors, Jack Russells, Chihuahuas and French Bulldogs are also particularly vulnerable, and this widespread situation results from circumstances that arose during the Coronavirus pandemic lockdown in 2020.

  • Increased dog sales and adoptions – During the 2020 pandemic lockdown, more people welcomed dogs into their families. With heightened uncertainty and stay-at-home orders in place, Pets4Homes noted that the demand for puppies increased by 51 per cent[2]. This had two consequences relating to dog theft:
    • An increase in demand meant dog theft became more lucrative.
    • An increase in supply – that is, dogs available to steal – created more opportunity for both the organised and spontaneous dog thief.
  • More people at home – Dog owners having to stay at home also had two consequences relating to dog theft:
    • More people out walking their dogs created more opportunity to snatch the animals.
    • People being at home more reduced the opportunities for burglars, causing them to branch out into different kinds of theft, including dog theft.
  • New legislation – The sale of third-party puppies and kittens was banned in England on 6th April 2020, through the enactment of Lucy’s Law. This new legislation is intended to outlaw abusive ‘puppy farms’ and make breeders more accountable. One consequence of this is that the ‘underground’ market for stolen dogs has seen a surge during the pandemic period.

Social media has played a significant role in the increase in dog thefts, too. As we all share more and more of the detail of our personal lives and activity across the internet, and as we all had more time to do this during the Coronavirus pandemic, we make it easier for dog thieves to target our pets. Uploading photographs of beloved hounds, tagging favourite dog walkers, or even sharing pictures of regular dog-walking routes all provide dog thieves with the information they need. On the other hand, social media has also played a significant role in steps used to tackle increased rates of dog theft.

Platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram enable dog owners to make their dog “too hot to handle” by sharing images and details of the dog and the theft. Likewise, communities can share information about suspicious activity, and dog owner networks and forums can share tips and suggestions about ways to combat dog theft with personal and property security improvements. In many ways, these platforms are used to approach the issues of stolen dogs in the same way as they are used to approach the issue of missing people – by raising awareness and increasing overall vigilance.

The role of Private Investigation in tackling dog theft

The relationship between the issue of stolen dogs and the issue of missing people is actually quite a close one. Your dog is a valued and beloved family member. They are full of personality and play a central role in your household. When they are missing, it can have a devastating effect on your family unit, and your emotional and mental wellbeing. The uncertainty of where they are and what they going through can be almost too much to bear, and assistance from local law enforcement or authorities is not always readily available.

As with cases of missing people, Private Investigators can help to resolve cases of dog theft. The cutting-edge technology used by qualified Private Investigation firms, along with innovative strategies and investigative methods, can help with the tracking and tracing of stolen animals. Staying within the parameters of the law, Private Investigation operatives can get to the truth about what has happened to your dog.

  • CCTV – Reputable and qualified Private Investigation firms, like OpSec Solutions, are registered and compliant with the Information Commissioner’s Office. This means that they are well-versed in the means of legally gaining access to public and private CCTV systems. If your dog has been taken from a spot covered to any extent by a CCTV camera, the right Private Investigation firm will be able to secure the footage.
  • Public records – Using data that is publicly available, through vehicle registrations and driving records, any footage that has been secured showing a vehicle suspected of involvement in the theft of your dog can be tracked to its owner and their address. Criminal records can also be searched, along with some financial information.
  • Canvassing – A great deal of information can be collected just by talking to people, and an experienced Private Investigation team will know who to speak to, and what questions to ask, in order to find out where your dog may have been taken. This type of intelligence gathering is a core part of any investigation and complements the more technical methods used.
  • Surveillance – When intelligence, public records, and CCTV footage raise suspicions around a particular individual, or a particular location, mobile or static surveillance can be deployed, legally and ethically. This type of surveillance results in documentary evidence, including photographs, video footage and detailed activity logs, and is formatted in a way that is admissible in court.

While the increase in dog theft has led to a rise in Private Investigators specialising in the field of ‘Pet Detective,’ it is essential to hire a Private Investigation team that is fully accredited and highly experienced in a broad range of cases. This comprehensive level of expertise ensures that the Private Investigators on the ground are able to handle any turn of events, and any type of intelligence gathering that is required. Private Investigation firms with a broad focus can properly encompass the wide range of motivations and circumstances that now create the increased rate of dog thefts we see today.

OpSec Solutions is a Private Investigation firm that uses qualified and experienced operatives based all over the U.K. That means, when a case arises, the OpSec Solutions team is likely to be able to provide an investigator who has local knowledge and contacts that can help resolve your case. The team is drawn from military, police and corporate backgrounds, and consists of highly experienced people who are all trained to national standards. This commitment to training and professional excellence has led to the firm gaining full accreditation from the Association of British Investigators, the UK Professional Investigator Network, and the Institute of Professional Investigators.

In addition to accreditation from these national regulating bodies, OpSec Solutions is registered with the Information Commissioner’s Office. This qualification indicates that a Private Investigation firm not only knows how to undertake cases in a legal and ethical way, but also specifically demonstrates that the team is able to utilise public and private security footage in a way that is compliant, while also getting results. Contact OpSec Solutions today to find out how the team can help with your dog theft case.


[1] https://www.directlinegroup.co.uk/en/news/brand-news/2021/dog-theft-increases-by-19-per-cent-during-lockdown-.html

[2] https://inews.co.uk/news/rspca-animal-welfare-puppies-online-dog-sales-842670

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