For Sunshine Coast dog lover, Melissa Bunter and her family, receiving an anonymous note saying their beloved three-year-old chihuahua, Gigi, had been accidentally run over, was utterly devastating.
Gigi, who Ms Bunter describes as the “baby of the family who sleeps with her ‘mum’ every night”, went missing from the family’s securely locked backyard last Thursday afternoon when Ms Bunter and her husband were at work.
Ms Bunter describes Gigi as a tiny, timid little dog who never left her side. How she ended up on the road is a complete mystery.
The family spent the next few days scouring the neighbourhood, putting up posts on social media, contacting local vets, as well as the police and council, hoping to find Gigi.
By Saturday, and still no news, the family put up posters around the local area, offering a reward of $500. That afternoon they found the anonymous note in the letterbox.
The strange note read: "I accidentally ran over your dog. She did not make it. I panicked. I'm sorry" and concluded with a sad face.
Ms Bunter took to social media once again, pleading with the note writer to tell the family: “where is she, where is the body?”.
So far the family have had no response.
“Either someone has stolen her and tried to put me off the scent, or they’ve run her over and dumped the body somewhere, and I want her home,” says a distraught Ms Bunter.
Yahoo News Australia has contacted Queensland Police for comment on the matter.
Covid lockdowns leads to rise in dog abductions
Demands for dogs during lockdown has led to a significant increase in pets being stolen. With an unprecedented demand for "pandemic puppies", the price of some breeds has skyrocketed making them relatively easy and lucrative prey for thieves.
Victorian Crime Statistics data shows dog theft has reached its highest level in five years, coinciding with the states tough Covid restrictions.
Elsewhere around the world, the number of dogs lost or stolen is also on the rise. Between 2019-2020 the UK saw a 170 per cent increase in reports of lost or stolen dogs.
Losing a beloved pet and not knowing its fate can have an incredible impact on owners, with some suffering serious mental issues including depression, anxiety and even PTSD.
Certain dog breeds targeted
Dog theft, it seems, is no longer a random event where a waiting dog is snatched outside the supermarket.
These days, criminals know what they want and where to find it, sometimes targeting breeders, stealing the mother, as well as her puppies.
As well as breeding dogs, working dogs, such as sheepdogs and other breeds with a special skill, are considered valuable and easy to sell to an unsuspecting customer.
In the US, French bulldogs, a favourite amongst celebrities, fetching up to US$10,000, are often targeted by thieves.
Fortunately for Lady Gaga her pets were safely returned, but this shows the lengths criminals will go to get their hands on valuable animals.
Other breeds considered to have the highest value for resale and breeding include chihuahuas, like Gigi, dogs with unusual markings and, more recently, crossbreeds, such as cavoodles, currently the most popular breed in Australia.
Law offers little protection
Unfortunately for dog owners, the law offers little help when it comes to the theft of a family pet. Because pets are viewed as personal property, similar to your phone or laptop, if a thief is caught and charged they‘re likely to be charged with a relatively minor misdemeanour and receive a light sentence.
Although police encourage people to report a suspected theft of a pet because they’re already overstretched in other areas, it’s usually the owners who end up carrying out their own investigation and search, putting up notices and offering rewards for the pet’s safe return.
Protecting your pet from theft
Although not foolproof, there are certain steps you can take to reduce the risk of your dog being stolen.
Make sure your dog has a microchip implanted as soon as possible after they come into your care.
This is actually a legal requirement and, in some cases, where dogs have been illegally sold, they have been successfully reunited with their owners when scanned for a microchip at the vet.
As soon as your dog goes missing, register them with a national register and other dog lost and found sites in your state, even nationally to cast the net wide.
Immediately file a report with your local police station and council who may be able to offer some assistance.
Get your dog desexed. They’ll be less appealing to a would-be thief looking for a breeding dog.
Do not leave your dog unattended in a parked car. A determined thief can easily force open an open window if they see a dog inside.
If you leave your dog in a fenced backyard make sure it’s fully secure.
Don’t leave your dog unattended and tied up, in front of a shop or cafe.
If you’re planning to buy a pet, always go through a reputable breeder. Never deal with people selling dogs through classified advertisements, or unverified online sites, otherwise you may end up buying stolen property.
For Ms Bunter, all she wants is a chance to say goodbye to her beloved pet, she's written on Facebook asking for the person who wrote the note to take compassion on her family.
"Please, could you leave another note anonymously to let me know where she is, so that I can say goodbye," she wrote.
"Please understand she’s my baby and this would mean more to me than you know."
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