Dozens of dogs allegedly stolen in Alberta in last three months

A group of animal lovers is sounding the alarm after dozens of dogs across Alberta have been allegedly stolen in the last three months.

The group, Alberta Abducted Dogs Welfare Association (AADWA), recently formed in response to the thefts.

Through its own investigations, AADWA has evidence to suggest 52 dogs have been stolen since November, most of which have been large, rural dogs.

“I was quite naive. I really didn’t think that theft was a thing that I ever had to be worried about,” said AADWA board member Aynsley Foss.

Foss knows first hand what it is like to have a pet stolen.

She believes her Maremma livestock guardian dog, Dixie, was taken from her farm near Cochrane in November.

“She was kind of stolen right under my nose as I was doing farm chores,” Foss said.

“She had an Apple AirTag and the AirTag was removed from her collar and thrown out the window about 15 minutes away from my house.”

Months of searching and online advocacy through her Facebook page Bring Dixie Home, led Foss to other victims, who also have reason to believe their dogs were stolen.

Some of those victims, as well as former police officers and dog rescues, make up the AADWA. The group accepts intake forms from victims of pet theft. They look into theft trends, help investigate any leads, offer resources to victims and push for amendments to animal protection laws.

Alberta RCMP are investigating Dixie’s disappearance as a theft.

Gina Slaney, a spokesperson for Alberta RCMP’s southern district, said dog thefts can be hard to prove.

“Unless we have evidence that points us towards it actually being a theft and a potential suspect, it would be very hard,” she said.

“But a theft of a dog is still a theft, it’s still a criminal offence, so it would be investigated fully.”

The RCMP does not track dog thefts separately from other thefts, and could not provide statistics to confirm an uptick in stolen dogs.

It is unclear why these dogs may be stolen, but Slaney said there is no indication of illegal dog fighting rings or puppy mills happening in southern Alberta.

Under Canada’s criminal code, stolen dogs are treated as theft under $5,000. Advocates want to see that changed to reflect the significance of the companionship these animals offer.

“People need to be held accountable when they are stealing someone’s animal because it is a lot different than stealing a couch or a TV. You’re stealing a piece of someone’s family,” said Erin Deems, AADWA member and executive director of Saving Grace Animal Society.

The United Kingdom recently introduced a pet abduction bill to prevent dog and cat theft with stricter penalties that could send thieves to prison for up to five years.

Deems said movement on the issue overseas is promising, but there are larger conversation happening in the industry around animal cruelty and protection.

In Ontario, legislators recently proposed the Preventing Unethical Puppy Sales Act (PUPS Act), which would amend previous legislation to prohibit “harmful” dog breeding practices often used by breeders in puppy mills.

“There is change on the horizon and there are other provinces that are making steps in the right direction and I hope to see Alberta follow along in their footsteps because they kind of created a nice way for us just to implement those in our own province,” Deems said.

The United States is facing its own dog theft problem, a growing issue ever since the pandemic.

American Kennel Club (AKC) Reunite first started tracking lost pets in 2013. Between 2021 and 2022, data suggests a 40 per cent increase in dog thefts.

However, those numbers dropped slightly in 2023, according to Tom Sharp, AKC Reunite president and CEO.

Eleven per cent of lost dogs reported last year are believed to have been stolen, Sharp said.

“We started to see crimes of opportunity with people stealing pets that were maybe left unattended,” Sharp said.

“More recently, there have been more reports that make it seem like more actual organized crime, people stealing pets maybe to be resold on the black market

The most targeted breed is the French bulldog, followed by German shepherd, Labrador retriever, Siberian husky and Yorkie, according to AKC Reunite reports.

“French bulldog puppies can go from $3,000 up to $10,000. So they’re out of reach for many people. So they may look to the black market,” Sharp said.

Sharp recommends owners microchip their pets and never leave them unattended, even in the backyard. He also advised pet owners limit the details they share on social media about their pets and where they live.

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