Huge rise in dognapping leaves three-quarters of pet owners fearful during walks
More than three-quarters of dog owners have grown more fearful over having their pet stolen during walks, according to a survey.
One force has even appointed a specialist officer to investigate canine crimes, while a charity has recorded a 170 per cent increase in dog thefts in one year.
Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne ran a survey online which attracted 124,729 responses, with 96.9 per cent saying dog theft is a serious problem.
It found that 78.4 per cent of people with dogs said they had grown more fearful of taking walks during the day, with 83% more fearful of night walks.
Twenty-two percent said they knew someone who had had a dog stolen in the past year.
DogLost, a UK charity that helps victims of theft, recorded a 170 per cent increase, from 172 dogs reported stolen in 2019 to 465 dogs in 2020.
At present, dog theft is not defined as a specific crime, with dogs classed as ‘property’ under the Theft Act 1968.
Nottinghamshire Police has appointed Chief Insp Amy Styles-Jones, who has three Chihuahuas called Tink, Jasper and Josie, as its head of dog theft investigation.
She said: “As an animal lover myself I relish the prospect of ensuring we take a compassionate response to the developing situation in regards to dog theft and any animal cruelty.”
Liz White, 68, from Burbage in Leicestershire had her Cockapoo, Logan, stolen in February after he was taken from boarding kennels while she was in hospital having surgery.
The dognappers cut a hole in an electric fence, and it is thought Logan was targeted for his breed because some Cockapoo puppies sell for upwards of £3,000.
With help from Facebook organisation Beauty’s Legacy, Logan was spotted about 30 miles from the kennel after five days.
“He is a very timid, gentle natured dog and very much part of our family, I was beyond distraught when I learnt he had been taken because I’m aware that less than 25% of stolen dogs are even returned to their homes,” Mrs White said.
“The impact that this had on me is massive, it was tormenting wondering what Logan was experiencing and it haunts me even now.
“Campaigns like the ones that Beauty’s Legacy starts, with the help of the police and others, really puts the spotlight on the dogs that have been stolen and makes them ‘too hot for criminals to handle’.
“Logan was discarded and spotted by passers-by. This is a fantastic way to find stolen dogs but it’s not easy to track down the perpetrators.”
Holly Morgan, 26, from Nottingham, said she was left sleepless after her Cocker Spaniel Bud was stolen in August 2019.
“Having my dog stolen was definitely the worst, stressful and most heart-breaking situation I have ever had to go though in my life,” she said.
Beauty’s Legacy helped to find Bud after 18 days, just under 130 miles from home.
“Even though I have my gorgeous boy back and my family is now whole again I am still living every day in fear that it will happen again.
“Even more so now with lockdown. I won’t walk my dogs by myself anymore, even in daylight, as I’m so petrified that they will be stolen from me.”
Sussex PCC Ms Bourne said: “Police forces across the country need a ‘flag’ for reports of dog theft on their systems as currently it is extremely difficult to track this crime trend and put in place an appropriate police response.
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“Pets are part of people’s family and the devastating emotional impact of this crime should no longer be overlooked.
“The Home Office have asked to discuss the findings and how we can develop measures that will protect people’s pets and boost public confidence. I will be exploring whether it is time to consider defining pet theft as a specific crime.”
Policing Minister Kit Malthouse said: “Losing a much loved family pet can cause great distress and it’s a sad fact that criminals will seek to profit by this vile crime.
“Pet theft is a criminal offence with a maximum penalty of seven years’ imprisonment and it must be confronted wherever it occurs.”