Violent Dog Thefts Are a Problem: How to Protect Yourself If It Happens to You
The violent attack on Lady Gaga's dog walker Wednesday night — and the subsequent theft of two of her three French bulldogs — was just the latest in a string of robberies involving popular breeds, particularly in the Los Angeles area. Purebred French bulldogs can net thousands of dollars on the resale market, and smaller dogs like them are easier for people to steal.
If you find yourself fearing such a threat, director of the UCLA Martial Arts and Self Defense Programs Paul McCarthy says avoidance is your best weapon.
"I like to use a phrase from the book Meditations on Violence: 'It is better to avoid than to run, better to run than to de-escalate, better to de-escalate than to fight, better to fight than to die,' " McCarthy, also the founder of Cognitive Kali, tells PEOPLE. "It's not just knowing some cool physical move — self-defense is about being aware of your situation."
To that end, McCarthy recommends keeping your face out of your phone, and if you choose to walk with earphones in, keep them at a low volume so you have your audio sense. If something looks out of the ordinary to you, "take note of it," he adds.
"Let someone know if you are going [to walk your dog] and when you might be back," he continues. "That way you'll have a cavalry if something happens. You can even turn on GPS on your phone so your friend knows where you are, as well."The old-school buddy system is great for late-night or early-morning dog walks, too. "Take the same route and protect each other," McCarthy says.
But if avoidance isn't possible — and you find yourself face-to-face with someone looking to take your dog — "getting away is the most important thing," McCarthy says. "Stay on your feet. Have a nice wide brace, a good distance between your left and right feet and from back to front so if you're pushed or have to move you're mobile. Keep your hands in a place they can protect your face or if the person is quite verbal, bring your hands up, palms facing outward, giving yourself a non-violent stance that protects you."
If you can, try and put yourself between the person in question and your dog, and get ready to pick the pet up and run if necessary. "Your job in a self-defense situation isn't to fight," McCarthy says, "it's to survive. You may need to punch or kick but you should always be doing that with the goal of getting away."
Though some might recommend carrying pepper spray, McCarthy notes that many people who buy such products never learn to properly use them, leaving themselves vulnerable or making their attackers angrier or more violent. If you do choose to carry pepper spray, he says, be sure you know how to quickly remove the safety lock and operate the device.
Even if you have a large dog, Brett Endes of The Dog Savant, who offers dog training sessions via Zoom, says you shouldn't rely on your pup to protect you or scare off a predator. But properly socializing your pet can help them see what "is normal or not in the world," he tells PEOPLE. "You want your dog to know when you are not acting the way you usually would."
Keeping your dog on a short leash can make them less susceptible to theft, too. "Think of how you walk with your purse or your child," he says. "If someone sees you as a target, your dog being further away from you makes it more vulnerable."
Training your dog to walk calmly by your side — the "heel" command — often helps the animal filter the stimuli around them. Though they can still startle in this position, "they might not be as quick to react if they are focused," Endes explains. However, "it's hard because in a situation so severe, any dog as trained or socialized as they can be will still react in some way."
You can also teach your dog to do its business closer to home by starting a routine that designates the spot you let them "go" (and yes, you can teach an old dog this trick, Endes says). "This can help minimize your time outside, especially at night," he adds.
Regardless, keeping good records on your dog will help if they are taken from you and put up on a resale market. Marc Peralta, Chief Program Officer for the nonprofit Best Friends Animal Society, suggests taking photos of your dogs that show any distinctive coloring or markings they have, to aid authorities in finding them. And always microchip your pet; when animals are turned into shelters those are often the first thing staff checks for.
Lady Gaga is offering a $500,000 reward for information about the person or people who attacked her dog walker and took her dogs; those with information on the case should email KojiandGustav@gmail.com.