By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 1 September 2011)
Cats and dogs are stolen for a variety of reasons. If they’re lucky, it’s simply a case of someone who sees a cute animal and wants to keep it as a pet, but there are many worse fates that stolen pets may suffer, including:
- Being sold to research laboratories or pet stores
- Being subjected to sadistic acts by psychopathic individuals
- Becoming bait or fighters for dog-fighting rings
- Being used as puppy mill breeders
- Being sold as meat to feed exotic pets or humans
- Having their fur made into clothing and accessories
Class B Dealers
In the United States, there are two types of animal dealers, Class A and B. Class A dealers maintain breeding colonies, whereas Class Bs obtain animals from “random sources.” A Class B dealer license costs just $50, and with an insufficient number of inspectors and weak enforcement of existing regulations, the USDA has not made a priority of ensuring the safety and health of Class B dealer animals. As a result, many animals in the custody of Class B dealers are horribly mistreated and neglected.
Most random source animals are stolen from people’s backyards or while wandering around the neighbourhood. Although regulations in Canada prohibit laboratories from purchasing random source animals, many pets are stolen in Canada and shipped to the U.S. Laboratories prefer to work with domestic pets because they are more trusting and friendly toward people, and Canadian pets are popular with Class B dealers because it’s harder for their owners to trace them.
Class B dealers also obtain animals through “Free to a Good Home” advertisements. “Bunchers” adopt animals and sell them to dealers, who then often sell them to laboratories. Laboratories also obtain animals through pound seizure. Animals taken to certain shelters that are not claimed by guardians or adopted out may be turned over to experimental laboratories.
Those working at the SPCA and other shelters have noticed individuals loitering in the area, approaching people who are bringing their pets to the pound because they can no longer care for them and offering to provide good homes for their animals. Some dealers bring a woman and child along to create the illusion of a loving family. People come to shelters requesting 6 cats, claiming that they want to adopt them for family and friends. Humane societies have reported witnessing dealers travelling through alleys in vans, offering meat or even female animals in heat to tempt pets into their vehicles.
The SPCA is lobbying to make selling animals to labs illegal, and Last Chance for Animals (LCA) gathered evidence that was used to convict a huge pet theft ring of Class B dealers, as well as sparking a number of investigations into the treatment of Class B animals. LCA and In Defense of Animals (IDA) are also advocating on behalf of more aggressive animal protection laws
Protect Your Pets
There are a number of things you can do to prevent your pets from being stolen:
- Attach up-to-date ID tags to your pets’ collars.
- Don’t leave animals unattended in your car.
- Keep pets indoors, or bring them out only on a leash and harness.
- Don’t tie your pets up anywhere outside to wait for you unless you can see them while you shop or eat and get to them quickly if necessary.
- Have recent photos of your pets on hand in case they go missing.
- Have your pets fixed – spayed or neutered animals are less likely to stray, and experimental laboratories prefer unfixed animals.
- If someone you don’t know asks about breeding or buying your pet, tell him that the animal has been fixed, even if this isn’t true, and record the person’s name, license plate number, and address.
- Never leave animals alone in your yard, particularly if they’re visible from the street, and padlock your gate.
- Never talk to strangers about your pet’s value, bloodline, or special abilities.
- Report suspicious activity toward animals in your neighbourhood.
- Tattooing and microchipping is a good idea, not only to help recover lost pets, but also because laboratories don’t want animals with tattoos and microchips (tattoos should ideally be done on the leg, as ears can be torn in a fight or cut off).
- When expecting guests or repair people, keep a close eye on the door – pets may run out and get lost when the door is left open.
If giving your pet away, make sure that it really is to a good home. Learn as much as you can about the new adoptive home beforehand:
- Visit the homes of the potential adopters.
- Photocopy their picture IDs, take the numbers of their drivers’ licenses and car license plates, and check references.
- Ask about other pets they have owned and the names of their veterinarians.
- Have adopters sign an adoption contract that allows for follow-up visits.
- Charge an adoption fee unless you’re very sure about the home to which you’re committing your pet.
Additional Ways to Help
You can help protect other animals from theft and cruelty by:
- Not buying animals from pet stores – many pet stores sell animals that have been stolen or bred in puppy mills – adopt from a shelter instead.
- Reporting any stolen animals identified in a dealer’s possession to the USDA and LCA.
- Contacting the USDA to demand that they do more to regulate Class B dealers and ensure the health and safety of animals in their custody.
- Lobbying for the abolition of Class B animal dealers.
- Telling family, neighbours, and friends about pet theft and how to keep their animals safe.
- Baiocchi, Michelle, Austin/Travis County (TX) Animal Services. (n.d.).“Pet Theft Prevention Tips.” DogRescues.org.
- Charlton, Jacquie. (11 June 1998). “Lock up Your Pets.” The Montreal Mirror, MontrealMirror.com.
- In Defense of Animals. (n.d.). “Pet Theft.” IDAUSA.org.
- Last Chance for Animals. (n.d.). “Vivisection, Class B Dealers and Pet Theft.” LCAnimal.org.
- Progressive Animal Welfare Society (2008). “Pet Theft” and “The Pet Theft Cover-up.” PAWS.org.