The case of stolen dogsPet dogs are being purloined increasingly. But not many know how to get them back.
For years, Alisha Bogati Gurung had seen posts about lost pets on social media. Never had she imagined that one day she’d be writing one such post herself. In March, two motorcycle-borne men arrived near Gurung’s house and made away with her six-year-old pug Coco. The act was captured on a CCTV camera. As soon as Gurung found out that her beloved pug had been stolen, she frantically shared the news on her social media accounts, hoping that someone would help her find the pet.
“Coco is a very dear family member. When we found out she was stolen from our farm in Kapan, we were in tears,” says Gurung. “We were scared about what they would do to Coco and we were worried that we would not be able to find her. The thing that made us feel utterly helpless was we had no idea how to go about finding our dog. We were not sure if authorities would see the gravity of the issue.”
Citing a lack of concrete laws surrounding dog thefts, law enforcement authorities, say pet owners, don’t take cases of stolen pets seriously, leaving many with no option but to rely on social media and animal rights groups to find stolen dogs.
Not the one to keep quiet, Gurung pulled out all the stops to find her dog. Apart from posting about her lost dog on her social media accounts, she got in touch with the social media pages of animal welfare groups and sought their help in spreading the word. Gurung also went around her neighbourhood asking people if they had any information on the thieves. She also pasted pamphlets of her dog around the neighbourhood.
“I was shocked and angry when I came to know that some didis from our neighbourhood had witnessed the whole incident but did nothing to stop the thieves. They could have yelled at the perpetrators or memorised the bike number, but they did nothing,” says Gurung. “They laughed when I asked them about the dog. I think they found it amusing.”
While trying to find her dog, Gurung found out hers wasn’t a one-off case in the neighbourhood. According to her, she came across many families in Kapan’s Akash Dhara who shared with her that their pedigree dogs were stolen.
“As I started to investigate, I came to know about other similar cases. I also learned that such thefts had become more common during the Covid-19 lockdowns. I think that’s because stealing dogs became an easy way to make money,” says Gurung. “Cases of dog thefts are not monitored and recorded, which, I think, is one of the reasons why these cases have become increasingly common. This doesn’t surprise me because after all many in our society still do not understand what it is like to raise dogs as a family and have them stolen.”
Many animal rights activists the Post spoke to say that cases of stolen dogs have increased in recent times.
“Between this year’s April and June, we heard of 12 cases of dog thefts in the Valley. Breed dogs are often stolen from private houses, and the most commonly stolen dogs are smaller breeds,” says Sanjeevani Thapa, the founder and handler of the social media page ‘lifewithfurs’, a voluntary group that helps find homes for dogs.
According to Bhakta Dangol, a member of Pawsitive Lovers Group, an organisation dedicated to the care of stray dogs, small breed dogs and breeds that are expensive are usually the ones targeted by thieves.
“People don’t really know what to do when their dogs get stolen. Many pet owners have called us to ask what they could do. And most of them are hesitant to report the incident to the police because they are not sure if the matter will be taken seriously,” says Dangol.
One incident Dangol remembers from the top of his mind is the case of a stolen pregnant chihuahua—a small dog breed which costs more than Rs 50,000—from a house in Patan’s Bagalamukhi a few months ago. The entire incident was captured on CCTV and the video had a man wearing a cap taking away the small dog.
The family filed a theft report at the Mangal Bazar police station, but the police, says Dangol, were unable to find the dog.
“We didn’t see that much of an effort from the police, and that, I think, is because of our mindset. People don’t really consider how serious of an issue dog theft is and the enormous amount of money these thieves make,” says Dangol.
In many Western countries, dog theft is considered a serious criminal offence and many of these countries have dedicated animal police units to oversee cases of stolen animals.
But things are completely different here in Nepal.
At the Metropolitan Police Range in Jawalakhel, Deputy Superintendent Police Deepak Bharati is surprised when he is posed with the question of how many cases of stolen dogs have been reported at the office.
“That’s a rare question. I don’t think we have had complaints of stolen dogs. We have had cases of cows and goats being stolen but not of dogs,” says Bharati. “If such a report is filed at the station, we will do the necessary work as we look into all kinds of thefts and missing reports.”
At Kapan police station, where Gurung had reported the case of her stolen pug, the initial response of some of the officers, she remembers, wasn’t very reassuring.
“They didn’t seem to have any clue on how they should move forward with the case. The officers at the front desk were ready to dismiss the case but luckily we met one officer who sympathised with our concern and was willing to take action,” says Gurung. “After the report was filed, police officers started asking questions to the people in and around the neighbourhood. I think word got around that the owners of the pug were not staying quiet about the issue.”
Gurung’s efforts eventually paid off. Six days after Coco was stolen, the thieves returned her to the police station.
“You should have seen how happy she was to return home to her family. Animals are as loving as humans,” says Gurung. “Having CCTV footage of Coco being stolen and then to come across the police officers ready to look for her were the two things that helped us get Coco. I consider myself very lucky. It is not very often that a stolen dog gets returned to its owners.”
Thapa, who helped amplify the search for Coco through her social media page, says she isn’t happy with the way the case was resolved.
“The offenders in the case weren’t punished. If we had strong laws and good guidelines in place, this case wouldn’t have been dismissed easily, rather it would have been further investigated and those people would have been punished in some way. But we didn’t see anything of that sort happen,” says Thapa. “That goes to show how unprepared our system is for such cases and how indifferent our society is when it comes to the safety of pets.”
Last year, the Kathmandu Metropolitan City had announced that it would bring a mechanism to register pet dogs and track them through GPS technology using microchips that could be tagged to a dog. Many pet owners say they have been looking forward to the implementation of the rule, which they believe will be vital to the safety of their dogs.
According to Ishwar Man Dangol, Kathmandu Metropolitan City’s spokesperson, the rule will be implemented within this fiscal year.
“The primary aim of the move is to curb the population of community dogs and make pet owners responsible for their pets’ waste. We think this will also help dog owners trace their pets if they get lost or are stolen,” says Dangol. “Hopefully, when this rule is implemented, dog owners will have the support from the public system when their dogs go missing. It will also be easier to search for them.”
But until the rule is implemented, dog owners have no option but to live with the legal loophole that leaves them with no option but to feel helpless and clueless when trying to find their stolen pets.
“As confusing as the situation is, there are still some things you could try,” says Gurung. “First, let as many people as possible know that your dog has been stolen and give out all the details possible about your dog. Second, reach out to social media pages to spread the news of the incident and report to the nearest police office even if you are not sure your case will be investigated. Doing something is better than doing nothing.”
Assistant Sub-inspector Tej Bahadur Shrestha at Kapan police station, whose team helped find Gurung’s dog, believes that laws around pet theft are ambiguous, making it challenging for law enforcement officers to act on such cases.
“There are already so many cases concerning people that it’s hard to prioritise a case of a stolen dog over others. It would sound so wrong but we also don’t have the right mechanism in place to provide the necessary help. In other countries, they have separate entities that look into such cases. But we do not have that kind of workforce here,” says Shrestha. “To be honest, many consider cases of stolen pets trivial and therefore they are hardly reported and given importance.”
Shrestha also adds that acting upon such cases becomes slightly easier when pet owners have evidence.
With a growing number of pedigree dog owners in Kathmandu Valley, cases of dog thefts are likely to increase.
“There are many reasons why people steal dogs. One, it’s an easy way to make money. Second, for those who would want to own a breed dog but don’t have the financial resources to buy one, stealing is a very convenient option. Third, many steal pet dogs for breeding purposes and then sell the puppies,” says Dangol. “Pet owners don’t know what to do and who to ask for help when their dogs get stolen. Dog thefts are no longer a rare occurrence in our society. They have become so common. It’s just that we have not paid attention to it. The absurdity is that many still find cases of dog thefts odd.”