According to a message that is currently circulating rapidly via Facebook and other social networks, as well as blogs and forums, a heinous dog fighting gang is stealing dogs from households around the Goole area of Yorkshire, UK. The message also claims that the criminal activity described might be spreading to other areas of the UK. The message claims that gang members are taking dogs of all sizes and breeds to be used as bait at dog fighting events. The message also warns that gang members posing as leaflet deliverers or walkers are marking properties that have suitable dogs with coloured stickers so that they can come back later and steal the animals. Supposedly, red stickers are for large dogs, yellow for medium sized dogs and pink for small dogs. The warnings advise residents to call police if they see the stickers and remove the stickers immediately.
However, the message is a hoax and should not be taken seriously. In fact, as the following example shows, the message is stolen verbatim from an earlier hoax that claimed that such dog stealing activities were taking place in Perth, Western Australia. The original Perth version has been dismissed as a hoax by both police and animal welfare organizations.
MPORTANT... MUST READ! PLEASE SHARE THIS.
Any Perth dog owners beware, leaflet droppers or anyone walking around housing estates.
Keep your eye out for small colored STICKERS on gates or doors, gangs are marking how many dogs live there to steal and they are using them for DOG BAIT FOR FIGHTING.
Ring the police immediately if you see any and inform the home owners. Remove the stickers immediately!
Red stickers are for big dogs
... Yellow for medium and
Pink for small breeds.
Please re-share and keep your dogs safe!
Clearly, the perpetrator of the UK version of the hoax has simply removed references to Perth contained in the original version and tacked on the misinformation about Goole Yorkshire. The fact that the would-be warning is an exact copy of another hoax set in a city thousands of kilometers away from Goole Yorkshire cast immediate doubt on its veracity.
And, as with the Perth version, there is no credible evidence to support the claims in the warning message. According to the Dogs Today Magazine Facebook Page, Humberside Police issued the following statement denying any knowledge of such crimes in the Goole area:
"I have checked with our local officers in the Goole area and have established that nobody has seen any of the stickers, nobody has dealt with any dog thefts recently however some local officers are aware of the rumours from Facebook and have seen some of the posts on the site.
“All I would say is that if anyone has had a dog stolen or has had a sticker put on their address then they should report it to local police so that any necessary inquiries can be made."
There is also no warnings abouts such crimes on the UK's RSPCA website, nor are there any news or police reports.
And, in any case, the criminal method outlined in this warning seems highly improbable. It seems quite unlikely that criminals would risk leaving evidence such as stickers on premises - and potentially be observed doing so - rather than just quietly writing down address and dog details as required. And, stickers could be too easily noticed and removed by home owners, thereby thwarting the criminal's intentions. The tactic described would also be problematical for the criminals actually stealing the dogs. Driving around aimlessly looking for small stickers - and again potentially drawing unwanted attention to themselves - would be a very silly and inefficient method for dog thieves to use.
Such fake warnings can rapidly take on a life of their own. Recipients of the message that actually have had a pet go missing may falsely assume that the animal was stolen in the way described. Once the message has entered the public psyche, any missing animal may be attributed to the mythical "sticker gang". And any coloured sticker seen on any building or fence may suddenly be viewed as confirmation that the claims are true. Even though in all likelihood, the sticker has no connection whatsoever to dog stealing and may well have been there - entirely unnoticed and unremarked by passersby - for months or years beforehand.
Urban legends such as this can garner false credibility because of inevitable - and entirely unsubstantiated - claims that such incidents happened to a "friend of a friend".
Spreading fear-mongering nonsense such as this will achieve nothing worthwhile. Such fake warnings do nothing other than cause unnecessary fear and alarm in communities and waste the precious time of police and animal welfare organizations who must field endless enquiries about the supposed activities described. If you receive one of these hoax messages, please do not pass it on to others. And please take a moment to let the sender know that the message is a hoax.
Last updated: March 6, 2013