Friday, July 15, during a walk in the Tuileries gardens in Paris, Oliver, Walid’s black and white French bulldog, suddenly disappears. Desperate not to find his 4-year-old dog, the young man warns the police and publishes a search notice on Instagram – where he has nearly 25,000 subscribers –, massively relayed.
After putting up posters proposing an exchange of money, Walid is contacted, two days after Oliver’s disappearance, by the dog’s captors. They ask him for a ransom of 5,000 euros. An appointment is fixed for the delivery of the money. The kidnappers, minors, will be arrested in flagrante delicto during the exchange, the investigation is still ongoing. If this story, which Walid qualifies as ” worthy of a Netflix script ended well, it is likely that the original purpose of Oliver’s theft was to be able to resell him. But already adult and neutered, and following the craze on social networks, the kidnappers preferred to ask for a ransom, which is done quite rarely.
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Every year, 75,000 announcements of disappearance
These thefts of pets are unfortunately regularly in the news. Last week, a 9-month-old Malinois belonging to a firefighter and trained in the search for people disappeared in the Gard, probably the victim of a theft. Each year, animal protection associations record 75,000 disappearance announcements published on social networks. But the figure is impossible to verify, between established thefts and runaways. The pandemic has not helped the situation: according to associations, the multiplication of adoptions and the craze for pets have doubled or even tripled the number of flights in 2021.
All breeds are affected, although thieves are more interested in those with a pedigree, and often in youngsters and females, who can subsequently produce litters. In the register listing “purebred” dogs (Book of French Origins, LOF) – some litters are sometimes worth up to 15,000 euros, such as American bullies.
To protect them, associations and veterinarians recommend having animals sterilized, but also identifying them with a chip – more reliable than a tattoo. For Jacques-Charles Fombonne, president of the Society for the Protection of Animals (SPA), “ identification is a real brake on theft, and also makes it possible to act on escapes and losses “. In France, it is compulsory, or punishable by a fine of 750 euros. Nathalie, police officer and vice-president of the Animal Protection Brigade, an association made up of members of the police and civilian volunteers, evokes the case of a young chihuahua, stolen a year ago from a pet store, having was found by reading his microchip at a veterinarian. Its “new” owner had bought it “ for 150 euros at a flea market “.
A booming black market
The modus operandi of thieves can take many forms. In the street, in cars, in front of shops, and even in the gardens of private properties… Some do not hesitate to cut the leashes or even physically attack the owners. Natacha told Le Figaro about the violent attack she suffered in 2021, following the theft of her American bully. As she walks her dog at 7 a.m., she meets a man who questions her about his animal, its breed, its age, before grabbing the latter to get him into his car. Not wanting to let go of the leash, Natacha will be dragged several meters.
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The theft of an animal is punishable by three years’ imprisonment and a fine of 45,000 euros. However, the black market is booming, with sometimes very organized networks of traffickers. Their loot is resold – often at substantial prices – on online sales sites, such as Le Bon Coin, where thousands of ads are posted each year.
Some stolen dogs are intended for fighting, which constitutes an offense in France. Jacques-Charles Fombonne, a former gendarme, was himself confronted with this type of network during his career, in the Alpes-Maritimes. ” During a search in a drug trafficking case, cut off dog ears were found on the ground. In fact, small dogs stolen on the Promenade des Anglais [à Nice] were used to feed the staff [race très utilisée pour les combats de chiens]which made them even more aggressive “, he recalls. If this story goes back several years, it remains emblematic. Because the SPA frequently collects ex-fighting dogs. Traumatized, trained for violence, they are often euthanized because they have become too dangerous.
The Animal Protection Brigade is also alerting to the upsurge in the illicit trade in cat fur. Last week, a domestic cat was found skinned in the south of France.
Third behind arms and narcotics trafficking
Animal trafficking, ranked third behind arms and narcotics in the world according to Interpol, is a real scourge. To remedy this, the SPA set up an anti-trafficking unit (CAT) in 1993. Based in Vichy (Allier) and made up of 6 agents, its mission, described on the SPA website, is to “ carry out surveys on professionals and bring to light the various forms of trafficking, sources of mistreatment, coming mainly from the countries of Eastern and Central Europe “.
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Working in conjunction with the public authorities, the investigations aim to dismantle these networks but also to re-tame the animals, some of which are traumatized after the mistreatment suffered. According to the SPA, 15,000 reports are made each year, leading to around 1,500 investigations, most of which concern individuals. For the vice-president of the Animal Protection Brigade, “ it is incomprehensible that a file for stolen animals is not set up “. According to her, grouping together stolen animals would make it possible to link similar modus operandi and to overcome networks more easily.
To discourage theft, the law against animal abuse, promulgated in November 2021, provides, since July 18, 2022, for the implementation of a decree strictly governing the conditions of adoption: “ Ads [sur internet] will be subject to verification, in particular the validity of the registration of the animal on the national identification file, and will include the mention “verified announcement” “Explains the Ministry of Agriculture in a press release. Clearly, the resale of stolen animals will be much more complicated. The government hopes that this law will deter traffickers. ” We’ve been asking for it for a long time commented Jacques-Charles Fombonne.
He hopes that the commitment certificate, now mandatory when adopting an animal, will be effective. And will lead, in a second time, to ” a decree on the penal consequences of these commitments “.
Regarding the sale of pets on the internet, Jacques-Charles Fombonne however hoped for a total ban, as for pet stores. While the new provisions will limit a number of scams, “ [Il ne croit pas] to the effectiveness of the platforms in the verification and supervision “.
For the Animal Protection Brigade, ministerial support is above all necessary, with trained police officers and sufficient resources. For his part, Oliver found his owner, who shared a photo of the bulldog in an Instagram story. The dog is doing well. Walid told us that he had ” immediately regained his habits and his toys “.