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  • Posted April 26, 2024

A Stolen Dog Feels Like Losing a Child, Study Finds

The emotional turmoil caused by a stolen dog is akin to that of a parent losing a child, a new study finds.

The findings support the idea that pets truly become family members to their owners, researchers said. When faced with the theft of a pet, owners tend to feel a similar sense of powerlessness, grief and loss.

In fact, some study participants felt the loss of a dog was more intense than the death of a friend or relative, owing to the closeness of the bond they had with their pet but not with some family members.

"It provides evidence of the intense love of dogs and the parental accountability of guardians,"said lead researcher Akaanksha Venkatramanan, an assistant psychologist with the Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust in the U.K.

For the study, published April 25 in the journal Animal-Human Interactions, researchers conducted interviews with four people who'd had their dogs stolen. The people were recruited through social media.

"This research was launched when my friends' dog, Lola, was stolen from under her nose in her back garden by someone we presume was posing as a delivery driver,"researcher Lindsey Roberts, a senior lecturer at the University of the West of England, said in a journal news release. "The distress rocked everyone, and I felt more had to be done to support those who were having their dogs stolen."

The dog owners participating in the study consistently reported sorrow, despair, hopelessness, emotional pain and numbness in the wake of losing their pet.

The same emotional reactions have also been found following the deaths of human loved ones, but society views the deaths of people differently than the deaths of beloved companion animals, the researchers said.

The owners' psychological distress often was compounded by a lack of understanding regarding how much a pet can mean to someone, researchers found.

Further, dog theft laws that consider pets as "stolen property"-- similar to a bicycle or a purse -- enhance the pain of owners and limit the support police can provide.

Given the evidence of similar grief and coping symptoms, dog owners likely are susceptible to the same challenges in processing grief faced by parents who lose children, the researchers said.

There's a real risk of having no closure, particularly if the dog is never returned home or found dead, the study added.

Unfortunately, more people are vulnerable to this sort of loss following the pandemic.

About 3.2 million pets were bought during lockdown in the U.K. as people sought companionship, and there's been a subsequent 250% increase in reported dog thefts, researchers said in background notes.

"We have since developed a questionnaire that aims to highlight the areas people need most support in coping with the theft of their dogs to help alleviate suffering,"Roberts said.

More information

The Humane Society of the United States has more about lost dogs.

SOURCE: Animal-Human Interactions, news release, April 25, 2024

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