The past several months have seen a sharp rise in dog thefts across Alberta. 

In response to these crimes, a group of former police officers, victims, and concerned citizens have formed the Alberta Abducted Dog Welfare Association (AADWA) to investigate these crimes. 

AADWA has deemed February 14 as Pet Theft Awareness Day and is wanting to help pet owners who have been victims of pet theft, as there are limited police resources when it comes to investigating this type of crime. 

Dr. Jodie Viste from the Animal Care Centre of Strathmore discussed steps that pet owners can take to prevent their pets from being stolen. 

“The most important thing to do is put identification on your animals. Either an ear tattoo or a microchip. A microchip is not a GPS system, but it helps us connect with the owner. Most importantly, make sure that the contact information attached to the microchip is up to date,” Viste said. 

Viste says that she has been hearing of pets getting stolen in the area, but mainly from rural properties compared to in the town. 

“I guess there is no solid proof that it is theft, and the dog hasn't run away or was chased after by coyotes. But there's some suspicious instances where a dog has been on the farm for years and then suddenly vanishes.” 

 Viste says that farm dogs are mainly picked up by thieves to be used in illegal dog fighting operations because they are typically larger breeds and have grown up protecting their property.  

Another reason people may choose to steal a dog is because of their breed. 

“Some dogs are more coveted than others, and people can't afford to pay the exorbitant fees that they are paying for puppies right now. If a thief were to see a purebred puppy that costs upwards of $3000 in someone's yard left unattended, it would be very easy for them to sneak into the yard and steal the puppy,” Viste said. 

Illegal and unethical breeding purposes are another reason that thieves target pet owners. 

“If a dog is not spayed or neutered, a breeder may covet the dog to use for breeding to make some money.” 

Viste says that spaying and neutering is another way that pet owners can keep their furry friends safe because they lose their value to unethical breeders. 

Other ways to keep your pet safe from theft are to keep them in a safe, contained environment, put up cameras in your backyard, and purchase a collar that has a GPS system on it. 

To help keep farm dogs safe, Viste suggests putting up warning signs. 

“I know it may sound silly, but putting up signs around your property that warn people of a dangerous dog, even if your dog is not, will make thieves less likely to come on to your property to steal your dog if they believe it will attack them. You can pull a fast one on the thieves by doing so, as they won't want to risk their own safety,” Viste said. 

Viste emphasizes that although pet theft doesn't happen a lot, there is still a possibility, and prevention is the best way to stay safe. 

“If you think your pet has been stolen, contact all the vet clinics in the area so if we happen to see a pet in the clinic that matches that description, we can be aware because it is hard for veterinarians to know that they are looking at a stolen animal.” 

Victims are also encouraged to make a police report as soon as they believe their pet has been abducted. 

AADWA suggests that even if victims are turned away by police, they should request to speak to the staff sergeant at their local police department. 

“Filing a report and having a Police Incident Report number generated is vitally important to any follow-up investigation,” AADWA said. 

AADWA is advocating for more rights for abducted pets. 

“Currently, the crime of stealing a pet is considered theft under $5,000. Other jurisdictions, like the United Kingdom, have changed their laws to recognize animals as companions and sentient beings rather than solely as property.” 

AADWA also provides resources for victims and helps them respond quickly to a pet abduction at a time that is incredibly emotional for them. 

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