How To Rec...

How To Recover A Stolen Pet

By Andrea Quarracino | August 31, 2021

Here's a staggering statistic for pet parents: over 10 million dogs and cats in the United States are lost or stolen every year. Of those, it's estimated that two million dogs are the victims of theft. So, how can you know for sure your pet's been stolen, and what can you do to recover your pet in the event of theft? Here are some tips to help you get your missing cat or dog home.

What To Do if Someone Steals Your Pet

If your pet's been stolen, taking swift action will help spread the word and get them back home. Wondering how to check if a dog is stolen, or what to do if you think someone took your cat? The best way to know for sure that your pet was stolen is by witnessing the crime: either by seeing someone take your pet or by getting an eyewitness report. If you're unsure, consider whether the evidence points to a stolen pet or a lost pet before contacting the police.

"Supposition does not hold any weight," says Gina Knepp, National Shelter Engagement Director at Michelson Found Animals. "But if indeed a pet is stolen, a police report should be filed immediately."  

If your pet has been stolen, here’s what to do: 

  • Go to Petco Love Lost to create a lost pet profile. Specify that your pet was stolen — and notify our network of animal shelters and rescues nationwide. 

  • Call the police and file a report. In most states, pets are considered property, and if your property has been stolen, the police can be an essential line of defense in your pet's recovery.

  • Alert your neighbors that your pet's been stolen and ask for any information they may have. Maybe someone saw the theft or captured a license plate number. If you track down any leads, share them with the police.

  • Hang bright neon posters↗ in your area. According to pet detective Kat Albrecht of the Missing Animal Response Network, using words like "Please Help!" and sticking with brief, easy-to-read information (including your phone number) is best.  

  • You can also use Petco Love Lost's easy-to-use shareables↗ to download a lost pet flyer template, or get the word out on Facebook, Nextdoor, and Craigslist. 

  • Consider offering a reward for your stolen pet's safe return — but beware of scammers.  

  • Notify veterinary offices in your area that your pet was stolen and file a lost pet report with all local animal shelters. (Hopefully, they're active on Petco Love Lost, too!)

  • Try an internet search for pet sales that match your best friend's description. 

    "If it's a purebred animal, check online sales of that particular type of pet or breed," says Knepp.  

If you don't know for sure that your pet's been stolen, they may have gotten lost. Try our tips for how to find a lost cat and how to find a lost dog instead,

How to File a Police Report

A police report with your local police department will be useful when identifying and retrieving your pet. It can even prove helpful in court if a suspect is brought to trial. 

Report the date and time your dog was stolen to the police. If you saw who took the dog, describe as many details as you can: height, weight, age, gender, race, clothing and vehicle.

Give the police a full description of your missing pet including the name, breed, markings or color, weight, and age. If your dog has a microchip, ask to have the unique serial number and dog’s description posted in the “stolen article” category on the National Crime Information Center. The sooner you report, the sooner the police can help.

How to Track a Stolen Dog

Unless your dog is wearing a GPS tracking collar (which could be easily removed by the person who stole them), it's challenging to track your pet electronically. However, you should let your microchip company know that your pet was stolen right away and make sure your contact information is up to date in their database.

What To Do if You Locate Your Stolen Pet

If you locate your stolen pet, you may be tempted to get them back on your own, but it's best to exercise caution and partner with the authorities. So, how do you get a stolen dog back?

"If you have found your pet with someone and that pet was stolen, calling the police for a civil standby to collect your stolen property is important," says Knepp. "As much as we don't like to think of animals as property, under U.S. law, they are, just like a gold watch."

How To Verify and Reclaim Your Pet

If you're reclaiming your lost or stolen pet from an animal shelter, humane society, or animal control office, animal welfare professionals will take the necessary steps to make sure pets are reunited with their rightful owners. Be prepared to address some or all of the following when you go to pick up your pet: 

  • Microchip verification: 

    If your pet is microchipped, make sure your information (your driver's license or another form of I.D.) matches the information on file with the microchip registry.  

  • I.D. tags and pet license tags: Make sure the contact information on your pet's I.D. tags and/or pet license tags is up to date and matches the info on your driver's license or I.D.

  • Veterinarian records: Bring your most recent vet records with you. It'll help to be able to demonstrate that your pet has been within your care.

  • Adoption records or purchase receipt: If your newly adopted pet gets lost or stolen, bring their paperwork along when you recover them to show that you are their rightful pet parent.  

  • Photos: Be ready to show off pictures of your beloved pet, preferably in digital format (like pictures on your phone) with a timestamp.

  • Unique markings or other identifiers: Does your pet have an extra toe on its right front paw, or can you confirm whether your pet has been spayed or neutered? Be ready to get specific and share details about your four-legged family member that only you would know.

  • Proof of search: Be prepared to verify where your pet went missing (street or cross streets), bring copies of lost pet flyers or social posts, or show the shelter your lost pet report on Petco Love Lost.

  • Your pet's reaction: Sometimes, your found pet's body language can speak a thousand words. But don't worry, if your lost cat or dog is too scared to run right into your arms, these other forms of pet parent verification will help. 

How To Prevent Your Pet From Being Stolen

If you've ever left your pet tied up outside a store while you run a quick errand, left them alone in your car — which can be very dangerous in hot or cold temperatures — or left them unattended in your yard, you might inadvertently leave your pet vulnerable to theft. To help prevent your pet from being stolen, make sure they are kept in a secure environment and make sure they're in your line of sight if they're out in the yard.

  • If you have a fenced yard, make sure gates are securely latched and can't open easily from the outside.

  • Resist the urge to tether your dog outside a shop while you run in for a quick minute or two, especially if your dog is friendly and would willingly take a walk with a stranger.

  • If you have errands to run, keeping your pet safely at home is a healthier alternative than leaving them alone in your car.

  • Carefully screen any pet sitters you bring into your home. Be thorough about checking their references, and ensure they're genuinely trustworthy before leaving them with your pet. 

  • Be wary of people too interested in your dog, and don’t share details about your dog’s breeding or cost.

  • Ensure your pet has good methods of identification, which could include a microchip, a collar with ID tags, or a GPS tracking collar. Tags are still rather easy to remove by someone with bad intentions, but an up-to-date microchip provides proof of ownership.

  • Keep your dog on a leash, as it is much easier to take a dog that’s wandering around on its own than one that’s physically attached to you by a leash.

While the prospect of losing your best friend through theft is scary, taking some steps to keep your pet secure can go a long way to keeping them happy, healthy and home.


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