Social media is to blame for baseless stories of dog thefts locally in the last couple of weeks. Reports of highly organised gangs stealing dogs from public places for use in dog baiting contests started appearing on Facebook around two weeks ago. Areas from including Kingswood, Warmley, Siston, Willsbridge and Bishopsworth were supposedly affected and local vets and the police, concerned by recent events. Warning signs started appearing in shop windows, reports appeared in some local news media and even Kingswood MP Chris Skidmore got dragged into the affair.
In reality, the veterinary practice named in many of the Facebook reports, knew nothing about any dog thefts and Avon and Somerset Police posted a disclaimer on their own Facebook page. A police statement read: “There’s not been a rise in dog thefts across the force area and rumours on Facebook are causing unnecessary worry to dog owners. We have no reason to believe dog baiting and fighting is occurring but we will investigate any reports made to us. If you do have information about this or any type of crime, or if you believe your dog has been stolen, please call 101 or report it online www.avonandsomerset.police.uk/report. Please share this with your friends and fellow dog owners.”
Of course, there may also be a good reason for the story going viral at the time it did. Pet Theft Awareness Week this year is from 14th -21st March when a lot of animal welfare organisations try to remind owners to take good care of their pets. So is it just coincidence that such a story creates panic among dog owners or is it clever use of social media to promote a message?