A week after a brazen thief stole a Portland family’s cat off their front porch, a pair of cat thieves were caught on security footage snatching a cat from a residential street in the UK.
The latter is not an isolated incident. A group of amateur sleuths, comprised of people whose cats were stolen and others concerned about the spate of thefts, found several of the missing cats listed for sale on a UK pet classifieds site, Pets4Homes.co.uk.
The latest cat-napping happened in East Birmingham, where home security cameras captured footage of a man and a woman creeping along a residential street shortly before 4 am, armed with cat treats, milk and a plastic bin and quietly searching for neighborhood felines.
East Birmingham’s Charlene Jones told the UK Sun that she was woken up by her dogs, who alerted her to intruders on her property.
“I didn’t notice anything until the dogs started barking, and I looked out the window and caught them in the act,” Jones said. “It all happened around 20 to four in the morning, at this point she was just putting the cat into the bin. I opened the window and the cat escaped.”
An angry Jones, whose own cat was stolen three weeks ago, confronted the thieves, who claimed they were working for a local animal welfare charity and were trapping strays.
“I went out and spoke to them and she started reeling off all these charity numbers and claiming she worked for them,” Jones said.
When Jones later reviewed the footage she recognized the cat, who belongs to a neighbor a few doors down the street.
“I feel angry,” Jones told the paper. “I have done my own research, she has been selling cats for eight months.”
Jodie Smith of Solihull, a town of about 123,000 about 18 miles from Birmingham, said her family’s cat, Arlo, was stolen in January. A friend later spotted Arlo on Pets4Homes, but the Smiths weren’t able to recover him.
“It’s awful, this is my daughter’s cat,” Smith said. “My daughter can’t go to bed with cuddles from her fur baby. She is absolutely gutted.”
Pet thefts on both sides of the Atlantic have been on the rise since the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic in 2020. As entire countries went into lockdown, demand for companion animals skyrocketed, leaving many shelters bare and breeders sold out.
Criminals saw an opportunity and began stealing pets, mostly dogs at first, from yards, homes and kennels, prompting the owner of one lost pet site to dub 2020 “the worst year ever” for dog thefts, according to the BBC.
With exotic cat breeds commanding large amounts of money on the open market, from a few hundred dollars for breeds like Persians to $20,000 for Savannah cats, opportunistic thieves began targeting felines as well. “Moggies,” cats of indeterminate origin or no particular breed, aren’t exempt either. Some may be stolen because thieves mistake them for exotics, while other thieves apparently find it worth their time to snatch cats that can net them $100 or more on sites like Craigslist and Pets4Homes.
In the UK, cat thefts have increased threefold within the last five years, a trend accelerated by the pandemic and the resulting scarcity of cats, especially those with breed pedigree. Police rarely recover the stolen pets, and authorities say some people are targeted after sharing photos and video of their pets online.
Stealing cats is especially easy in the UK, where the majority of people allow their cats to roam free outdoors and the idea of keeping cats strictly indoors is seen as cruel or improper, even though felis catus are domesticated animals and don’t have a “natural habitat.”
In the Portland case, no one has come forward with any solid information in the theft of Kiki the cat despite two relatively clear shots of the suspect’s face and extended footage of her approaching and taking the cat from the Autar family’s front porch on Feb. 20. Like the UK catnappings, the Portland suspect seemed motivated by profit: The family said their cameras also caught the woman checking for open car doors, and the way she grabbed and held the cat — holding him at arm’s length, dangerously carrying him by the scruff of his neck — indicated she saw him as an object, not a living creature.
Karina Autar told PITB on March 1 that her family hasn’t given up hope.
“We are all just getting by, we are coping by putting in all our energy [into finding] him,” she said.
In the UK, Jones is not the only person to confront the cat thieves. Amy Buckley, 29, told The Sun that the woman seen in Jones’ footage also told her she was an employee of an animal welfare organization.
“She came to mine around January, claiming she worked for the PDSA and that they’d had a report about a large number of stray cats in the area,” Buckley told the paper.
She said she was immediately suspicious because PDSA (People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals) is a charity run by veterinarians that provides care, not TNR or general trapping services.
PDSA confirmed the woman does not work for the organization, while local police told the paper they had taken several reports from people whose cats had been stolen and were investigating the thefts. Meanwhile, an RSPCA spokesperson urged caretakers to have their cats microchipped.
In the meantime the victims are trying their best to locate their stolen furry family members, but they’re also angry at the pain the thieves have caused families and children.
“There are other families going through the same heartbreak,” Smith said. “For a lady to have some money in her pocket, she is destroying little children.”