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Factcheck: Are dognappers marking targets with stickers on ESB pillars?

Social media users have claimed that dog thieves are using stickers on ESB mini pillars to mark houses where dogs will be stolen.

SEVERAL POSTS SHARED widely on social media over the bank holiday weekend have claimed that dog thieves are placing stickers on ESB mini pillars to target houses for pet theft.

The claims, which have come from different counties, follow a slew of suggestions in recent months that the rate of dog theft in Ireland has significantly increased.

The claim

People have claimed that dog thieves are using the stickers to mark houses where dogs will be stolen.

The claim, which has appeared in various forms on Facebook and Snapchat, suggests that the thieves identify households where dogs are living and use the stickers as a means to target the house later.

In a post which has since been deleted, one Facebook user in Kerry said: “Red tags outside my front door this evening. Keep an eye out for your dogs please. A drone flew over my house Friday evening and Saturday morning, driving my dogs mad and then this sticker appeared.”

The user attached an image of a red sticker on an ESB mini pillar which appeared to have been weathered or scraped away at the edges.

ESB sticker dognapping post

Another post on Facebook from Waterford, which has been viewed over 18,000 times, said: “We have just noticed a load of houses have been marked with red squares probably done during the night as weren’t there yesterday. I urge u all to check and remove them ASAP. Dirty scumbags. They wont get our dogs.”

Similar posts have been sent on Snapchat, with screenshots reshared on other social media platforms.

One Snapchat user shared a photo of a sticker and wrote: “Please watch your dogs. This was taken right outside my house where I have 2 dogs and my neighbour 1.”

“Please be careful and if you see this sticker or chalk on or near your house beware these markings are for the stealers to mark where they r stealin from next,” the user wrote.

The evidence

ESB routinely places stickers on mini-pillars to indicate that the pillar has been inspected by a technician.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, a spokesperson for ESB said that the stickers are a “safety inspection marker”.

“The stickers are entirely in line with practice,” the spokesperson said.

“Our network of technicians go out, and it would be on a three-yearly basis that every mini pillar will be inspected.”

“On completion of each inspection, our technicians attach an easily identifiable sticker to each individual minipillar which has been visited.”

The colour of the sticker is used to record when the mini pillar was inspected.

“These public safety patrols are based on a 3-year cycle with the stickers varying in colour each year, blue indicating that the latest inspection was carried out by ESB Networks technicians this year,” the spokesperson said. 

In recent years, ESB has used red, blue, green, and yellow stickers.

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Suggestions that the stickers are used by thieves follow arguments that there is a “dognapping epidemic” in Ireland – a claim that TheJournal.ie has already debunked

The gardaí said the official reported number of dog thefts has not recently increased, but that anecdotal evidence suggests there may have been thefts which have not been reported.

Gardaí familiar with investigations believe that most of the thefts have been opportunistic, with many of them “totally unplanned”, and that it was “highly unlikely” that signals were being used to mark out homes to target for dog theft.

The Verdict

In claims which have been seen tens of thousands of times, social media users in different counties in Ireland have said that stickers have been placed on ESB mini pillars by dog thieves to mark out houses whose dogs will be stolen.

ESB has confirmed that it uses stickers to indicate that a safety check has been carried out on the pillar by a technician.

The colour of the sticker is used to record when the mini pillar was inspected, with red, blue, green and yellow having been used in recent years.

Gardaí have already said that most recent dog thefts have been “totally unplanned” and that it is “highly unlikely” that signals are being used on a wide scale to mark homes for dog theft.

As a result, we rate the claim that stickers on ESB mini pillars are placed to target homes for dog theft: FALSE. As per our verdict guide, this means: The claim is inaccurate. 

TheJournal.ie’s FactCheck is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can read it here. For information on how FactCheck works, what the verdicts mean, and how you can take part, check out our Reader’s Guide here. You can read about the team of editors and reporters who work on the factchecks here. 

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