On September 21, 2021, Josie, a one-and-a-half-year-old French bulldog, was kidnapped in the Bois de Vincennes by a couple in their sixties. “She was walking with an educator with whom I had put her on an internship, who had a dozen other dogs. They were all detached. Josie approached a good-looking couple in their sixties and played with them for a few minutes. The educator looked away for a moment and when she turned around, she saw the couple in the distance leaving with Josie, ”says its owner, Anthony, a hairdresser in his thirties.
Four days later, the animal was found in a wood in the Aisne, more than 100 kilometers from Vincennes. “A vet called me saying that walkers had brought Josie to him, that they had found him in the forest. They were having a barbecue, the dog approached them, she was exhausted, she no longer had a collar and she was covered in ticks, ”continues the young man.
Is it a network of dog thieves? If the investigation stopped when Josie found her owner, for Nathalie, the vice-president of the Animal Protection Brigade (BPA), an association mainly composed of volunteer police and gendarmes, the little dog was stolen by ” opportunism”, the most common theft. “These are people who pass, who see dogs alone in a forest or tied up in front of a business, they take them, they say to themselves that they can sell them for a few hundred euros”, explains the policewoman. “Most often it’s just that the opportunity presents itself. They steal a dog like they would steal a wallet, ”confirms another police source.
For Catherine, founder of an association specializing in tracking these stolen dogs: “It’s not a mafia, it’s ordinary people, it can be anyone, an 18-year-old, a couple or a mothers who want to make ends meet”.
Some thieves are much more organized and do not hesitate to steal canids directly from owners’ gardens or from cars or even in the middle of the street. “We have seen an increase in purse robberies. They even go so far as to cut the leash, threaten or hit the masters with a weapon during the walk to recover the animal. These thefts are more and more violent”, deciphers Nathalie. This is the case of Océane, 24, violently beaten and dragged on the ground for several meters by two men who stole Ryuk, her six-month-old American Bully, in March 2021 in Villiers-sur-Orge (Essonne), a breed that can cost “up to 10,000 or 15,000 euros”.
Other dogs even have contracts on their heads. “Some thieves need a specific dog, a certain breed, a certain color. They employ sponsors, who identify the animal, the owner, the times when he is absent, sometimes even the path. And then they set up home surveillance to go and steal the dog when the master is absent, ”explains the vice-president of the BPA. If kidnappings by organized networks exist, it is “a very marginal phenomenon”, nuance, for its part, the national police.
Some stolen dogs are immediately resold on the Internet, “often in less than 24 hours”, specifies Catherine, but others are used for breeding. “They steal a dog that is not microchipped and not sterilized to breed her and resell the puppies behind, which are untraceable,” explains Nathalie. And for good reason, as much for breeders as for thieves, the business is very lucrative. If the dogs sell for between 1,500 and 3,500 euros from professionals, thieves can recover up to 10,000 for certain litters of popular breeds.
Among them, small dogs like the Spitz Dwarf, the Chihuahua, the Yorkshire or the French Bulldog or more imposing dogs, like the Staffie, the American Staffordshire Terrier or the American Bully. “It’s the fashionable breeds that are stolen,” says the national police, who recall that this offense is punishable by up to three years in prison and a fine of €45,000.
But between the owners who do not file a complaint and those whose animals have run away, “difficult to quantify precisely” thefts of dogs in France, estimates the national police. Some associations, they evoke 75,000 thefts per year – a figure that is nevertheless impossible to verify. In 2020, the Facebook page ADA (Animal Disappearance Alert) received 267 reports of dog thefts, 269 in 2021, says Nathalie, who centralizes alerts. The volunteers have even drawn up a map of France to identify flights across the territory.
Identification, the key to finding the animal
“It has become extremely easy money”, continues Catherine, for whom the business has increased exponentially over the past five years, and more particularly during confinement.
“During this period, purchases and adoptions skyrocketed. Inevitably, when there are more requests, the dog theft market explodes,” according to the vice-president of the BPA, recalling that animal trafficking is the third traffic behind that of weapons and narcotics. “As they could no longer enter the houses since everyone was at home, the burglars fell back on the animals in the gardens”, notes Catherine.
The actors of animal protection are formal: identification and sterilization remain the best means of protection against theft. “A dog that is not chipped is very difficult to find, it drastically divides the chances. It’s the same thing for sterilization, a sterilized female dog will interest thieves less for breeding, ”explains Nathalie. This is also what surely allowed Anthony to find little Josie, who was sterilized and chipped: “Besides, she’s not a purebred, she was useless for thieves, so they ‘have given up’.