© Depositphotos.com/Erik Lam
According to a number of viral messages that are currently rocketing around Facebook and other social networks, a sinister dog fighting gang is stealing dogs from households in and around the city of Perth, Western Australia. The messages claim that gang members are taking dogs of all sizes and breeds to be used as bait at dog fighting events. The messages also warn 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.
...animal welfare authorities in Perth, who have been inundated with phone calls since the messages started to appear about two weeks ago, said the warnings were "completely unfounded" on Wednesday.
"It's a viral hoax," RSPCA spokesman Tim Mayne told Fairfax Media. "Police and the RSPCA have no solid evidence on this at all.
"We've been monitoring this situation for the last week and a half and still, to the best of our knowledge, it's a viral hoax."
He said there had been various dog fighting hoaxes spreading around the world in recent years.
In fact, the tactics described in the message are actually rather absurd. Why would criminals risk leaving evidence such as stickers on premises - and potentially be observed doing so - rather than just clandestinely jot down address and dog details as required? Plus, the stickers could be too easily noticed and removed by home owners, thereby thwarting the criminal's intentions. And the "system" 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.
One variant of the hoax tacks on the claim that the dog stealing scenario described is also taking place in the UK. But the UK variant of the message is clearly just a mutation of the original Perth version and also has no basis in fact.
The hoax messages have also caused concern among some dog owners in the city of Perth, Ontario after some social media users mistakenly concluded that the warnings were aimed at their city rather than Perth, Western Australia.
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. Very often, such urban legends gather undeserved credibility because of inevitable - and entirely unsubstantiated - claims that such incidents happened to a "friend of a friend".
A news report on WA Today, notes:
While many in Perth claim to know somebody who knows somebody whose pet has fallen prey to a kidnapping, authorities and social media experts have dismissed the warnings as a viral hoax.
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 4, 2013