Is Dognapping the Newest Wave of Criminal Behavior? – Psychology Today

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Posted January 21, 2022 | Reviewed by Lybi Ma
Over the past few years there have been a number of disturbing articles in the media with headlines like “Dognapping Is the Designer Crime of the 21st Century”, “Rising Rates of Exotic Dogs Being Kidnapped for Resale or Ransom”, and “Gangs of Dognappers are Willing to Use Violence To Snatch Valuable Pooches.”
Dognapping is the crime of stealing a dog from its owner, with the word obviously derived from the term kidnapping. Because of the strength of the human canine bond, the psychological effect of dognapping is much the same as if a child or loved family member had been kidnapped. A 2021 study of 2,480 domestic abuse victims by the Urban Resource Institute showed that domestic abusers recognize this fact and in the same way that they maintain control over an abuse victim by holding a child hostage, they can often achieve the same effect by holding a pet dog hostage. Thus a dognapping can have a devastating emotional effect on an individual.
Much of the media attention seems to have been stimulated by a spectacular case of dognapping involving the dogs of Lady Gaga (singer, songwriter, and 12-time Grammy award winner). Her French Bulldogs, Koji, Gustav, and Miss Asia were being walked by Ryan Fischer. Suddenly, armed men leaped from a vehicle and grabbed the dogs. Fischer resisted and the thieves opened fire at him, leaving him severely wounded with a shot to his chest. They then fled with two of the three dogs.
Lady Gaga offered a reward of $500,000 for the return of her beloved pets, and the culprits were ultimately arrested when they tried to cash in on that reward.
Dognappers don’t only target high-profile dog owners. Los Angeles resident Robert Marinelli was walking his dog Luca when a man in a black sedan got out of his car, grabbed the dog, and ran.
Marinelli chased after the man, but the thief fought him and the dognapper and his accomplice drove off. During the chase, Marinelli’s shirt was caught in their car door and he was dragged briefly on the ground. The two thieves then jumped out of the car and beat him brutally, leaving him with extensive injuries.
The media stories suggest that the current form of dognapping is a new phenomenon. They recognize that stealing dogs has been around for a long time, with most animals being stolen and sold for medical research. In 1966, Lyndon Johnson signed the Animal Welfare Act into law to protect dogs and it effectively reduced the number of dognappings for research purposes. What seems to be novel is that today dognappers plan to profit based on the amount that the original owners are willing to pay as ransom or are offering as a reward for the return of their dog. The truth of the matter is that dognapping for ransom has been around for a long time.
Consider the case of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, a romantic poet who published during the mid-1800s. Among her most famous works is the collection Sonnets from the Portuguese which she dedicated to her husband, the poet Robert Browning. These poems contain some of the most well-known love lyrics ever written in English, with familiar lines like, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.”
Robert Browning read some of Elizabeth’s poems and began to write to her to praise her poetry. He himself was already on the way to becoming one of the best known of the Victorian poets. A short time later the two poets met and fell in love. Their courtship was bitterly opposed by Elizabeth’s father, who was a dominant and possessive man. The whole episode had the flavor of high melodrama. It even had the requisite tense climax and happy ending, as the two lovers eloped and then secretly stole away from her family home to live happily ever after in Italy.
But before Robert Browning, Elizabeth’s first love was a dog. She was a frail woman who spent most of her time indoors. A friend gave her a golden-colored spaniel puppy to serve as her companion and she named it Flush. Upon his arrival, Flush had an instantaneous effect on Elizabeth’s spirits. “Flush amuses me sometimes when I am inclined to be amused by nothing else,” she told her brother, George. The bond between Elizabeth and Flush was so strong, that, like in the case of Robert Marinelli that we discussed above, she was willing to put her own safety at risk on behalf of her beloved dog.
In Victorian England, there were several rings of dognappers who would abduct dogs of middle or upper-class families and hold them for ransom. This trade was lucrative and relatively low in risk since English law was rather ambiguous about whether dogs were to be considered property. Flush was kidnapped no less than three times, each time being ransomed back for a higher sum. The third time he was taken, the ransom required was much more than Elizabeth could get from her own resources. She was beside herself with anxiety and grief, not eating and barely sleeping. “Flush doesn’t know that we can recover him, and he is in the extremest despair all this while. Poor darling, Flush, with his fretful fears, and petty whims, and his fancy of being near me. All this night he will howl and lament, I know perfectly—for I fear we shall not ransom him tonight.”
Eventually, out of love for her dog, Elizabeth decided that she would go directly to the thieves and negotiate Flush’s release. Her family was aghast, warning that she would be robbed and murdered. Nonetheless, that evening, Elizabeth got into a cab with her frightened but loyal maid and drove through what she later described as “obscure streets”. She eventually reached the rough neighborhood of Shoreditch. This was where the gang of dog bandits known as “The Fancy” had their headquarters. Their leader, who was demanding the ransom, was a man named Taylor. The cab driver stopped at a pub and asked the way, and when they arrived at the address he had been given, several men came out and invited Elizabeth to come in and wait for Taylor, who was not at home at that time. Her maid was terrified and begged her mistress to do no such thing. She agreed, and sat in the cab. Fortunately, when the cab driver had gone to the pub seeking Taylor’s whereabouts, he had explained why Elizabeth was there. Several people in the pub felt some pity for her and had tagged along behind the cab. Now, as she and her maid sat, there they were surrounded by what Elizabeth later described as a “gang of benevolent men and boys who ‘lived but to oblige us.'”
After some time had passed, Mrs. Taylor appeared. Elizabeth described her as “an immense feminine bandit.” Mrs. Taylor graciously promised to inform her “dear husband,” when he returned, that a lady had called and was waiting for her dog. Elizabeth told Mrs. Taylor the amount that she could afford as “a reward” for Flush’s return, and she was assured that such a generous contribution would be acceptable. Elizabeth returned home to await Taylor’s appearance to arrange the final exchange. In the end, Flush was returned and the ransom paid was the more affordable price that Elizabeth had negotiated during her adventure.
Not all dogs are equally attractive to dognappers. The dogs that have the highest value are French bulldogs and other purebreds or posh designer mixes. English bulldogs, Maltipoos, and small exotic breeds are also high on the list. Dobermans were really hot for a while since coats were being made from them. According to the Los Angeles Police Department, the dogs that are at most risk are French bulldogs (since they can fetch $7,000-$12,000), Goldendoodles (resale value $800-$3,000), and Pomeranians (resale value starts at $3,000, but if there is an unusual or rare coat color, such as a merle, they can net up to $15,000).
The LAPD goes on to warn that if you go into a grocery store and tie your French bulldog outside, don’t expect it to be there when you come back. The only way to get your pet back is to post a high reward or to look on Craigslist, where stolen dogs often turn up for sale.
References
URINYC Urban Resource Institute (2021). Domestic violence and pets: breaking barriers to safety and healing. https://urinyc.org/palsreport/
Stanley Coren, Ph.D., FRSC., is a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia.
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The question is not whether you’ll change; you will. Research clearly shows that everyone’s personality traits shift over the years, often for the better. But who we end up becoming and how much we like that person are more in our control than we tend to think they are.

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