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Pet Sitters and Dog Walkers: Avoid Becoming a Victim of Dog Theft

With the loss of Lady Gaga’s French Bulldogs, pet theft is in the news. Put these best practices in place to prevent it.

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WHEN THE THEFT OF Lady Gaga’s two French Bulldogs and the brutal attack of her dog walker, Ryan Fischer, made international news in February, a flood of concern permeated the pet-sitting and dog-walking community. And understandably so — pet sitters and dog walkers must make their personal safety a top priority, but they also have the responsibility to protect their clients’ pets.

A recent article published by BBC News touted the past year of lockdown as the “worst ever” for dog thefts, so if you are a pet sitter and dog walker, it’s a good time to review your policies and not grow lax in taking common-sense measures to keep the pets in your care safe.

Never leave a dog unattended in public (or in a client’s yard).

Leaving a pet alone in public — even for just a few moments — can have disastrous results. While it should go without saying, never leave a dog in your care tied up outside of a store, restaurant or location while you run inside. You should keep the dog with you on leash while they’re in your care.

The same is true for leaving a pet alone in your vehicle — never do it. Even if you plan to be gone for a brief time, leaving a pet in your car can pose health risks (since temperatures can rise or drop significantly inside a vehicle in a matter of minutes), and it also makes them a target for potential theft.

Even while at a client’s home, be vigilant when letting a pet out into the yard. You want to make sure any fences or gates are secure to avoid the pet’s escape, but also keep in mind that fences don’t always deter would-be dog thieves. So, it’s best practice to supervise a dog when they’re outside.

Also, make sure all dogs in your care have on a collar with ID and are microchipped.

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Stay on alert and avoid potential distractions on dog walks.

When taking on new clients in neighborhoods unfamiliar to you, take time prior to your first dog walk to familiarize yourself with the route. Make note of any places to avoid, such as areas that aren’t well lit or spots that are secluded. Choose an alternate dog-walking route if necessary. You may also want to check recent crime records in your service area to learn if there have been any recent dog thefts and, if so, in what area and if specific breeds were targeted.

When walking a client’s dog (or your own), it’s also important to always be focused on the dog and be aware of your surroundings. This means not talking on your cellphone or having your earbuds in. While walking may seem like the perfect opportunity to listen to music or catch up on your favorite podcast, this may prevent you from hearing a person or automobile approaching you.

You may also consider seeking out local situational awareness and self-defense trainings — online and in-person options are available — to help you better prepare should the unthinkable happen.

Beth Stultz-Hairston is the president of Pet Sitters International (PSI), the world’s largest educational association for professional pet sitters and dog walkers. PSI offers members resources and support at every stage of their business.

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