With dog theft on the rise during the pandemic, state lawmakers are proposing stiffer penalties. (Getty Images)
There’s a dark side to the increase in demand for pets during the pandemic: when those procuring the animals do so illegally.
Dog theft has been on the rise nationally during the pandemic, with thieves snatching dogs from their yards and even from houses. Now state lawmakers are considering a proposal to increase the penalty for the crime. The bill would also make it illegal to tamper with tracking collars or remove a microchip.
Stacey Ober of the American Kennel Club said that with the high demand for pets during lockdown, some people are “desperate.”
“We have seen increases in pets being stolen out of yards, home invasions for high-quality, coveted breeds of dogs that are then flipped and sold,” said Ober. On Monday, she testified in support of a proposal that would make stealing a dog a more serious crime. The first offense would be a misdemeanor, while a second offense would be a Class B felony. Any additional offense would be a Class A felony.
The sponsor of House Bill 338, Rep. Brian Sullivan, a Grantham Democrat, said he introduced the bill on behalf of one of his constituents: Diane Richardson, a Georges Mills dog breeder, and lifelong New Hampshire resident.
Richardson started breeding dogs in 1985. Now she breeds Rottweilers and Shiba Inus. Dog theft “is a growing problem,” Richardson told lawmakers, both in New Hampshire and across the country. She said that “dog flipping” has become a trend, where someone steals a dog and then resells it for a profit. But the current laws were written before tracking collars and microchip technology were common – and she said an update is needed to reflect that.
Richardson said that without laws that specifically mention tracking collars or microchips, law enforcement officers are hesitant to press charges when a collar is tampered with or removed. “There’s zero New Hampshire law addressing microchips at all,” she said.
“I know of eight dogs alone in New Hampshire that have had their collars removed or dogs taken out of collar range to prevent their owners from finding them,” she said. “And once the dog’s collar is removed or the microchip is removed, there’s no way to prove the dog is yours.”
The proposal has widespread support, and Dog Owners of the Granite State also spoke in favor of the bill. The organization’s membership includes mushers, hunters, livestock guardian dog owners, herding dog owners, and pet owners. “Their best interest is to ensure that, should they utilize any of these devices, that they would be remaining intact so that they could get their dog back,” said Angela Ferrari, president of the dog owner association.
And, as Joe Mullin testified, tracking collars don’t necessarily come cheap – with the price tag of a GPS collar ranging from $100 to as much as $750. Mullin testified in support of the bill on behalf of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation. The issue of dog theft impacts hunters as well, who work with dogs whether they are tracking, pointing, flushing birds, or retrieving waterfowl.
“Hunting dogs serve as an extension of sportsmen and women working in tandem and as a team,” he said. “The removal of a dog’s collar or complete theft of a dog is a serious outward attack on a hunter’s ability to enjoy our nation’s time-honored traditions.”
Mullin said that with his own retriever, he uses an electronic collar both for training and command recognition.
“When we’re in the field, I spend more time and money than I’m willing to admit on his preparation going into each season,” said Mullin. “But more importantly, he’s a valuable member of my family.”
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