How Microchipped Dogs Can Still Be Stolen

Updated November 28, 2020

Last week Fred was found after being missing for 18 months. Without any doubt he’s very lucky ever to see his home and family again. He was stolen right here in suburban Adelaide by people who never wanted him to be found.

How can dog theft still happen in 2019, almost a year after microchips and seller registration became compulsory? The answer is something all dog owners should know. It may even help you get your dog back if they go missing.

Let’s start with how Fred went missing.

Fred’s Escape

The pictures above tell the story. That’s Fred on the right before his theft, a young, fit Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. On the left is what he managed to do to the fence while his owners were out. You can see he’s pushed away the bricks and dug underneath.

Most young dogs have got on the street at least once. Both my dogs have done it. Normally what happens next is that someone picks them up and takes them to the nearest vet. There, we scan the microchip and call the owners to come and get them.

When Fred got out, the phone never rang. He just disappeared. Then, last week, an overweight, matted dog was found wandering at Sefton Park. He was taken to the vet and scanned: it was Fred, but a very different Fred.

Fred’s Neglect

One look at Fred and you can see the neglect:

  • He was obese
  • His coat was matted
  • His ear hair touched the ground (that’s it arrowed)
  • He had a terrible ear infection

I really do mean terrible. His left ear had an infection that had been there for a very long time. Long enough to burst the eardrum, invade the middle ear and establish itself.

Ear infections matter because they are very, very painful. You can read about another case of neglect of an ear infection that ended up in court. Fred was just as bad.

How We Treat Ear Infections

Normally I’m all positive about treating a dog’s ear infection. I haven’t failed any yet, at least none who have come back for the weekly re-checks. We will typically examine the ear, take a swab, and treat with whichever ointment the swab suggests. Bad cases need a flush out under anaesthetic first.

Then we take another look in a week to make sure it’s fixed.

However, this is for recent ear infections with intact eardrums. What about Fred’s infection? It was probably there for over a year and by now it’s well and truly established.

For Fred, we booked him in to have the pus in his ear flushed out with saline, and took a swab to send to the lab. The swab will tell us what the infection is caused by, and which antibiotics can kill it. Then we treat and cross our fingers…

What we’re waiting for is to see if his eardrum will heal. A freshly ruptured eardrum can repair itself, but I’m worried about Fred. I’ve already warned his owner it’s 50:50 that he’ll need what’s called a Total Ear Canal Ablation and Lateral Bulla Osteotomy. That’s essentially the surgical removal of as much of the ear as we can.

Update: Read about Fred’s TECA surgery here.

Dog Theft In Adelaide

What happened to Fred I’ve seen happen to a number of dogs over the years. I call if dognapping, though it isn’t really, as no ransom is involved. I’ve seen both sides: the bereft owners and the dognappers.

The dognappers find a dog wandering the street. Instead of the normal reaction, here’s what they say:

“What a poor lost dog. He must be neglected to be wandering the streets. We’d better rescue him.”

And so the dog disappears, unseen and untouched by those that could get him back home. The people that took him continue to tell themselves what a good thing they did, but at least subconsciously they know they did something wrong.

How do I know this? Two things give them away.

  1. They avoid all public outings and especially the vet. This is why Fred was in such a state.
  2. When things are so desperate that it’s the vet or death, they’ll do anything to avoid me finding the truth or scanning the dog.

I tell them: “what if there’s a child out there missing him and not knowing why he was lost”. Even then they try to refuse.

I can only try to stay calm in the face of such selfishness. I know what they did was just a moment of weakness, but it’s no excuse.

What To Do If Your Dog Goes Missing

If your dog is lost, you normally just have to wait for the phone to ring. However, for a checklist of what to do and who to contact, click here.

This won’t save you from the dognappers, so I have one further trick. If a week has gone by and there’s no sign, here’s what I would do:

  1. Print a map of the area with enough detail to show each yard.
  2. Start by thinking where your dog normally goes when he gets out.
  3. Literally start looking over fences. Yes, this is a privacy issue so be sensible about it.
  4. Mark off each yard you’ve checked.

If someone just took him off the street, it’s unlikely that he’s outside of a kilometre radius. Knowing how common dognapping is, I’d assume that’s what happened and I wouldn’t give up.

You could also add a local flyer with a reward so someone dobs them in. Yes, that’s a lot of effort, but it’s worth it and I’ve seen it work.

Fred’s return was quite different. Have you already guessed how he got back home? He did his escaping trick again!

We’re watching the lost and found to see if anyone reports him missing, but they probably aren’t that stupid. If you think you might know something, contact us privately.

Related: Catnapping: How Well-Meaning People Steal Cats

Thanks to AdelaideVet Prospect for looking after him when he was found, and the courier who picked him up.

Have something to add? Comments (if open) will appear within 24 hours.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. Meet his team here.

2 Replies to “How Microchipped Dogs Can Still Be Stolen”

  1. This is my vet thank god thay had the poor little darling only if fred could talk !!

  2. Case 1: dog escaped and a dog matching description was found next block away. The “finders” reported to AWL/RSPCA as did the people that lost dog. Matched together, description (even right down to extraordinarily long nails that were under constant maintenance (dog had some problem) and history fit , location, – everything fit. “Finders” then refused to give the dog up, refusing to believe the “losers”. Dog was excited to see the”losers” but “finders” suggested that was just because the dog was friendly. We were 95% sure the dog was the “losers” dog, however no microchip back then, so no proof. Went to court – the “finders” were awarded custody!

    Case two: dog was stolen out of the owners car, with witnesses. Owner did not give up. Saw a local itinerant several days later, walking the dog. Police were called with the thief denied it was stolen, claiming it as their own…..only thing was in this case the dog’s collar and council registration tag was still on it – case closed!

    case three: cat was brought over from interstate after a family member had found it and tried “absolutely everything” to locate the owner in its home city/state. I asked if they had checked for a microchip – confused the person that brought it in looked a little frighted (not because they had been caught out , these were very genuine people, believing they were genuinely saving an animal) as they realised that may not have happened and they may have to give up the cat they had all ready fallen head over heals in love with. I scan, find a microchip, check on the PetAddress, find the data base and owner details……….client burst into tears. “Do we really have to let them know” they ask, hopefully. I point out how much they already feel for the cat and remind them the owner is likely feeling the loss too…….cat is transported back across state lines to owner

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