What are your rights if you accidentally buy a puppy that turns out to have been stolen?
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What are your rights if you accidentally buy a puppy that turns out to have been stolen?

Dogs
Health & Safety

Dog theft in the UK is at an unprecedented high at the moment, as demand for puppies for sale is far greater than supply. This mean that puppy theft and resale is a lucrative business at the moment too, and a great many criminals have thrown their hats into the ring in this respect.

As a prospective puppy buyer, it is hugely important to ensure when contacting puppy sellers firstly that the litter in question is real (and that you do not fall for a deposit-related financial scam) and also that the seller of the litter is their legal owner and so, your purchase of the puppy would be legal too.

Unfortunately, the fact that a litter for sale might be stolen doesn’t even cross many puppy buyer’s minds; which is a bad thing for many obvious reasons but also because people viewing litters, and their vigilance, could theoretically serve as one of the best ways to help dog owners locate and get their stolen dogs back.

But if you do buy a puppy in good faith and it turns out to be stolen, what happens then? Do you have any legal right to keep the puppy, or could you even be considered criminally liable in some way for possessing the puppy? This article will answer some of these questions.

If I do inadvertently buy a stolen puppy, do I hold any criminal responsibility?

Put simply, no; if the puppy you buy does turn out to be stolen, as long as you purchased it in good faith and could not have been considered to have been reasonably expected to realise that something was wrong, you will not be found in any way complicit in the theft or handling of the dog.

However, if you could reasonably have known or suspected that the puppy was stolen or you were deemed to be legally considered complicit in the theft (even after the fact by knowingly buying a stolen puppy), this would be viewed in law as handling stolen goods or any of a number of other ways that would see you at risk of criminal prosecution.

As an example, if the puppy was very young when you bought it (far younger than any responsible seller would let a puppy leave its dam at) this would be a red flag, even if this was down to ignorance and not culpability on your part.

While the onus is not on you to prove your innocence, documenting the steps you took in due diligence to ensure the puppy was legal to buy in the first place is a good idea.

If my puppy turns out to be stolen and the owner is located, what happens then?

However far down the line it were to happen, if your puppy did prove to be stolen, the legal owner (usually the breeder of it) has every right to have the puppy (or by then, adult dog) back, and they may well exercise this right.

However, if you can prove that you were in no way complicit in the theft and bought the puppy in good faith; and can satisfy the breeder that your care, management, and responsibility for the puppy meets their personal benchmarks – you might, if they were amenable, be able to negotiate the legal purchase of the puppy or dog from them and keep them.

Either way, being cooperative and stepping forwards immediately if any information comes to light that makes you think the pup might not have been sold to you legally really is the best approach.

Also, even if you had no way of knowing when you bought the puppy that it was stolen and that the sale was not legal, if you learn this or suspect it to be the case later on, keeping quiet down the line and failing to come forwards is an offence in itself, and could result in criminal prosecution as at that point, you would be deemed in law to be knowingly in possession of stolen goods.

Does the fact I bonded with and loved the dog hold any sway when it comes to my being able to keep it?

Dog theft is a contentious issue, and one that is very highly emotionally charged for many of the parties involved. This is the case for the breeder or owner whose litter or dog was taken originally, as well as the people who inadvertently bought the stolen dog, bonded with it, and may have provided the only home the dog has ever really known.

However, in law, dogs are property; dog theft is considered to be the theft of goods. Emotion does not come into this, and while there is a huge amount of argument ongoing about the need to change the law to reflect how different the theft of a pet is compared to say, the theft of a fancy car, as things stand, dogs are an asset.

They’re assigned a financial value that helps to determine the severity and gravitas of the crime, and its penalties; the fact that any number of people risk heartbreak as a result of the theft, either at the time or later on, simply doesn’t figure into it in court.

Ultimately, unless you were able to prove there was a good reason (usually a welfare issue) for the dog not to be returned to its legal owner, and this is highly unlikely – and does not mean even if you could achieve this that you would get to keep the dog – the dog’s legal owner is the only one with any power to decide what happens to the dog from there.

Will I get the money I paid for the puppy back?

In terms of getting your money back from the original seller or rather, thief, the chances of this are far lower, even if they are successfully prosecuted.

While the thief might be ordered to pay back the proceeds of their crime, the chances of them being able to do this are low; and also, both arrest rates and conviction rates for dog theft in the UK are disappointingly low.

Dogs (particularly puppies) that are stolen actually being found and making it home are the minority; and cases in which the thieves are caught and prosecuted successfully are even lower. Raising a civil action after the fact to get your money back (if the criminal court does not order this) is an option, but the thief or thieves being able to comply with a successful civil court order are low.

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