Where Have All The Stolen Dogs Gone?

Who Has Stolen Your Dog?

Monday mornings are always chaotic for us and today is no different from any other. This is when we deal with all the enquiries that have come in over the weekend and it is also when we hear about older cases. It is now 10.35am and I have just finished a call from a very distraught dog breeder who has the unshakable belief that gypsies have stolen one of her dogs.

Julie (that’s not her real name) has bred Labradors for over 20 years and has never lost a dog before. She described a recent incident to me where two men, who she believed to be gypsies, arrived at her kennels and asked whether she had any puppies for sale.


"I sent them packing’ said Julie; ‘I knew they were up to no good."


A week later, Julie was walking her four Labradors – as she does every morning – when the youngest picked up a scent and took off into the woods. Despite many hours of searching, distributing hundreds of posters and making dozens of phone calls, Julie has not had a single sighting of her missing dog. Julie’s experience is typical of the hundreds of similar incidents that are occurring every week across Britain. Many of these missing dogs are never recovered. Why? Well, its because most of them are stolen.


The Mistaken Belief About The Identity of the Thief.

When a dog goes missing, especially in a rural area, owners are often inclined to blame the travelling community for their loss. However, you might be surprised to learn that despite their unenviable reputation, the travelling community account for less than 20% of dog thefts across Britain. I am not making my observation based on national figures but from our own experience.

I personally have visited numerous traveller sites and they are not overrun with stolen dogs. When I enter these sites, I usually see working breeds such as Terriers, Lurchers and Spaniels. However, the latest figures released on dog theft (commissioned by a pet insurer) claim that the Staffordshire Terrier is the most stolen dog in Britain. I rarely encounter Staffordshire terriers on gypsy sites, if in deed I ever have.


So if this Is the Most Stolen Breed of Dog In Britain, who Is Stealing Them?

When we begin an investigation into a stolen dog, the first thing we do is to identify which category of dog thief is responsible for the theft. We introduced this strategy ten years ago and it has proven to be an extremely effective means of locating and recovering stolen dogs. The four categories that we use are:


  • The Opportunists
  • The Specialists
  • The Occupational list
  • The Crazies list


The Opportunists

We believe that ‘Opportunist’ dog thieves account for the highest number of stolen dogs. This category includes the petty thieves who shark around their neighbourhood always looking to exploit an opportunity to steal. Their methods are very crude but extremely effective, these scumbags just grab and flee. It matters not whether the dog is tied up outside a shop, running loose in a park or in your garden. To the Opportunist it is simply a chance to make some easy money.

In October this year, Bugsy, a three-year-old male Pug, was left outside a shop in Kilburn. He was snatched by a couple of boys, who within 24 hours were offering him for sale on the Internet. Fortunately, Bugsy’s owners contacted us immediately and we managed to get him back. But not everyone is so fortunate.

Opportunists, also include those loathsome people who find a stray dog and keep it, doing absolutely nothing to contact the owner or local authorities. We call this behaviour ‘wilful blindness’ and theft by finding, accounts for a vast number of stolen dogs. When we confront this type of dog thief, we so often hear the same ridiculous statement of justification.


"Oh! I thought the dog had been abandoned so I took it in."


The only truthful part of this statement is the ‘I took it.’ (Finders + Keepers = Dog Thief).


The Specialists

The next category of dog thief is the ‘Specialist.’ This is the fastest growing category of dog thief we encounter, with an increasing number of criminals drawn in by the attractive combination, of easy money and little likelihood of being caught. This category is populated entirely by career criminals who have experience in handling dogs. They usually work in pairs, operate from unmarked vans and plan their attacks well in advance of the theft. Their methods include, masquerading as a buyer, working as a beater on shooting estates or using a bait dog – often a bitch on heat – to draw other dogs away from their owners.  Specialist dog thieves will move a stolen dog across several county borders within 24 hours of a theft and often steal to order, targeting popular breeds or even singling out a specific dog.

It was ‘Specialist’ dog thieves who stole Biscuit - a male Springer Spaniel - in 2010. The thieves broke into our client’s home using a glasscutter only a few minutes after the dog minder had dropped him off – revealing that they had been watching the house, waiting to strike. We recovered Biscuit 18 months later and over – 150 miles away, from a ‘convicted illegal dog breeder,’ the infamous John Lowe, who is now serving a life sentence for murdering his girlfriend and her daughter. 


The Occupational List

The third category of dog thief is the ‘Occupational List.’ These deceitful, double-crossing snakes have slithered their way into the occupations that give them regular contact with dogs. They will then exploit this position in order to make a profit from stealing the dogs that come into their care. They often hide their criminal activity behind a legitimate business enterprise such as a boarding kennel, dog walker or registered breeder.

Over the last five years we have investigated; a dog warden who took bribes from the owner of a boarding kennel, not to record the details of the dogs that were delivered to the kennel; dog walkers who steal their client’s dogs and then tell the owners their dog has run off and breeders who steal back the dogs that they have recently sold.

In 2011 we successfully lobbied an MP in Lancashire to force changes on a borough council that was not complying with the legislation on stray dogs. We discovered that the boarding kennel, selected by the council to house all strays, was not scanning for microchips. We confronted the kennel owner – an aggressive and unpleasant little man – who ‘claimed’ his microchip reader, was broken. We can only guess at how many dogs he destroyed or sold on to innocent buyers but it is likely to be in the hundreds.


The Crazies List

The final category of dog thief is comprised of the most unpleasant people that I have ever had the misfortune to deal with. And let me tell you, 14 years in CID and 15 years as a Private Detective has brought me into contact with some seriously disturbed people.

We call this category the ‘Crazies List.’ This is where we place the loners, losers, lunatics and misfits – such as the animal hating, rogue farm workers and gamekeepers who shoot or poison any dog that strays onto their land. The ‘Collectors’, is a term introduced by psychologists for the social misfits who prowl our neighbourhoods, snatching unattended dogs from gardens, condemning them to a life of imprisonment.

Then there are the ex-lovers who, lacking the emotional intelligence to deal with rejection, scurry, like sewer rats into their ex-partner’s home and sneak off with their dog. The twisted, dog-hating lunatics who lace pieces of salmon or meat with poison and leave it on public footpaths; the sick individuals who steal dogs for dog baiting, and of course lets not forget the illegal breeders.

The list is endless and most of the people in this category of dog thief are weak and needy; social outcasts who crave attention. They are also extremely devious and calculating people who derive a great deal of pleasure from inflicting pain and suffering on other peoples’ dogs. Police forces would be well advised to keep a close eye on this category of dog thief because many of them will go on to commit similar crimes against people. The convicted double murderer John Lowe had a history of animal cruelty and admitted - during his trial - to shooting numerous dogs and horses.


Will Things Get better or Worse?

Realizing that there are so many people motivated to steal or kill your dog can be quite a depressing thought. However, there is good news on the horizon. An increasing number of Police Forces are taking dog theft more seriously and over the last 18 months we have completed a number of joint operations with the Police, resulting in the recovery of many stolen dogs and the prosecution of offenders. There are also numerous country watch schemes in operation across Britain, which are helping to reduce the incidents of dog theft in rural areas.

There is however, a worrying trend amongst some cash-strapped, local authorities, which are reducing the effectiveness of their dog recovery and regulatory services by sub-contracting their responsibilities to the same private companies that collect household rubbish. Historically, dog wardens have been tasked with investigating complaints made against boarding kennels, dog walkers and breeders. This raises the importannt question as to who will investigate future complaints – will it be the dustman?


So What Can You Do to Protect Yourself?

There are thousands of dog thieves out there waiting for you to make a mistake in relation to the care of your beloved pet, so please follow our advice and implement one or more of the following security measures because they will help to prevent the theft of your dog.


  • Train your dog to come to heel and never allow her to run off out of your sight
  • Don’t leave your dog alone in an insecure area and never leave her outside a shop
  • Before using a boarding kennel, make a freedom of information request for complaints
  • Only use a dog walker who is personally recommended to you.
  • Always ask to see insurance and local authority licenses for kennels and dog walkers
  • Your dog has no value to an illegal breeder if she has been neutered 


What Can We Do to Help You?

We are professional investigators and have many years experience of recovering stolen dogs. We are considered by many to be the leading authority on dog theft in the UK and have worked with BBC Horizon, C4 Cutting Edge, ITV News, C5 and numerous national newspapers and radio stations.

Our aim is to eradicate dog theft in Britain but we need your help. We want every dog owner to be our eyes and ears and if you suspect someone has possession of a stolen dog or is involved in illegal dog breeding then let us know. We treat all information in the strictest confidence and will never disclose your identity. You can contact us via our website, via e-mail [email protected] or call our 24/7 hotline 01403 753463.

In addition, take a few minutes to read the checklist on our website on what do to if your dog goes missing. We hope you won’t need it but you may meet someone who does.


Finally, if you think that you have been the victim of dog theft then please contact us immediately. All calls to our office are free and there is no obligation for you to use our services.


Together, we can make the difference.


Colin Butcher

Senior Investigator

The Pet Detectives