By Sahar Adatia and Jimmy Singh.
If you were to embark on a life of crime, professional dognapping is probably not the first act of law-breaking that would likely come to mind.
Besides, who would even be that low to steal someone’s four-legged fur friend off them?
But it so turns out that stealing people’s dogs for financial gain or simply because you’re crazy is not all that uncommon, so much so that it has even contributed to bringing about legislation to protect dogs and dog owners.
One such case that made its way into news headlines everywhere last month saw Fifi the pet chihuahua stolen from outside a shopping centre (https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-04-17/big-issue-vendors-dog-stolen-from-rundle-mall/11025676) in Adelaide’s CBD as her homeless owner Ruth Reidy finished her day of work as a vendor for The Big Issue.
At about 2pm on 16 April 2019, Ms Reidy momentarily left Fifi sitting in her pram in her white dress with black stripes outside the checkout area of Woolworths in Rundle Mall.
But within two minutes, the 70-year-old’s beloved pup was stolen.
“A lady said a woman came out of there wheeling the pram and running down the mall so myself and about three other women ran down the mall but she was completely gone,” Ms Reidy said.
Fifi the Chihuahua a Well-Known Sight in Rundle Mall Shopping Strip
Making Fifi’s disappearance more upsetting, the small dog is a well-known sight in Adelaide’s main CBD shopping area.
According to Ms Reidy, everyone recognises Fifi because she is always sitting in the pram when the vendor walks in.
“Everyone says, ‘Fifi, Fifi’ and they go and talk to her and play with her.
“She gets out of the pram and runs around – she likes coming in.”
Police Find Pram and Arrest Woman for Theft of Dog
Following the incident, police released CCTV footage from the corner of King William Street and North Terrace in the CBD, which exposed the thief carrying a dog across the frantic intersection.
While Ms Reidy “prayed to God” for Fifi’s return, the following afternoon the pram was recovered.
Three days later, following investigations, police visited an address in Richmond where they discovered Fifi and arrested a 43-year-old woman over the theft.
The woman was bailed to appear in the Adelaide Magistrates court at a later date.
Anxious Wait Over: Ms Reidy Reunited with her Beloved Fifi
With Fifi back in her arms, a once devastated Ms Reidy said she was “so happy” to have her back.
“I knew that God would send her home. That it was a matter of time,” Ms Reidy told 9News (https://www.msn.com/en-au/lifestyle/familyandrelationships/adelaide-womans-emotional-reunion-with-stolen-pet-chihuahua-fifi/ar-BBW7L9o).
Ms Reidy is a regular seller of The Big Issue in the Adelaide mall and featured with Fifi in the publication’s 2019 calendar.
The magazine is sold in busy areas by underprivileged locals, and gives homeless and disadvantaged people a chance to help themselves by working as vendors. They benefit by being able to keep half of the cost of the magazine.
“Faith in Humanity” Restored for The Big Issue State Operations Manager
Speaking of the incident, The Big Issue state operations manager Matt Stedman said it was one of the worst things to have happened in his time with the magazine.
However, knowing Ms Reidy had been reunited with Fifi had restored his “faith in humanity”. (https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-04-20/police-find-big-issue-vendors-chihuahua-stolen-from-cbd/11033222)
“I think on a personal and individual level, I think for Ruth … this is a really important thing for her,” he said.
“For Ruth, Fifi is a companion, but for her, it’s become a really good talking point for her to engage with people around her.
“It gets really hard … you are quite isolated and alone and I think having Fifi with her is that chance to break down barriers.”
Mr Stedman commended the police service and said the find showcased how productively the police and community can work together.
What are the Penalties for Stealing a Dog in NSW?
It may come as a surprise to know that in NSW, the theft of dogs is actually referred to specifically in the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW).
Anyone who is guilty of stealing a dog will face a maximum penalty of up to 6-months imprisonment and/or $550 fine under section 503 Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) (https://www.legislation.nsw.gov.au/#/view/act/1900/40/part14a/div1/sec503).
There is also a maximum penalty of up to $550 fine for simply possessing a stolen dog with the knowledge that it has been stolen (section 504 Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) (https://www.legislation.nsw.gov.au/#/view/act/1900/40/part14a/div1/sec504)).
So, put simply, even being in possession of a stolen dog in NSW is an offence, and if you are in fact in possession of a stolen dog or the skins of a stolen dog, you can face a fine of up to $550.
The Act also contains a provision for those who steal dogs then return them for a profit when a worried owner attaches money or a reward for retrieval.
Anyone who corruptly takes money or a reward following from retrieving a stolen dog can face a penalty of imprisonment for one year.
Stealing is also referred to as larceny under law (https://www.criminaldefencelawyers.com.au/blog/the-law-on-larceny-charges/).
Larceny is when someone takes and carries something away in circumstances where:
- The thing taken belonged to someone else; and
- It was taken with the intention to keep it or permanently deprive the owner of it; and
- The owner did not consent for it to be taken away.
The offence of larceny (https://www.criminaldefencelawyers.com.au/criminal-law/offences/robbery-or-stealing/larceny/) is reflected in section 117 Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) which carries heavier penalties, dependant on the value of the thing stolen.
How to Protect your Dog from Being Stolen?
For most dog owners, having their furry friend dognapped is one of their worst nightmares.
Many people treat their dogs as a member of the family and the idea of their pet going missing is particularly distressing.
Pet owners are now being advised to supervise their dogs when out in public.
Along with that, here are some tips to help protect your dog from being stolen:
- Never leave your dog unattended in public places – unattended dogs are easy targets for dognappers. If you’re running errands in places that aren’t dog-friendly, leave your beloved at home.
- Be proactive about the potential of your dog to be stolen – hopefully your dog never goes missing, but in the case that it does, you will need to prove that it belongs to you. So, to be safe, microchip your dog, and ensure that your contact information is up to date with your microchip company.
- When it comes to pet-care providers, hire professionals – it is not uncommon for your dog to be stolen while in the care of dog-sitters. So, only hire responsible, insured and trusted pet-care providers. Always check references before hiring a walker or sitter.
- Use caution with overly curious strangers – it is best to be guarded with your dog’s information. Sometimes, thieves will try to determine how much your dog is worth to determine whether to steal it. So, deflect detailed questions from strangers, particularly those about how much your dog costs.
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