Dog thefts are estimated to have risen by 250% over the past year.
Last week it was reported that the Home Secretary Priti Patel was looking to enforce stronger penalties for pet theft. However, this comes too late for thousands of owners across the UK who have lived through the nightmare of having their beloved dog taken from them.
The law currently treats animal theft as the same offence as property theft, a crime which is tried in a Magistrates Court and usually incurs a nominal fine.
However, the Pet Theft Reform Campaign highlighted only 1% of dog theft crimes have resulted in prosecution in recent years.
Liv Turner, 19, whose Labrador Dexter is believed to have been stolen after he went missing on a walk in their home of Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire said: “At the moment the penalties for pet theft are similar to someone who’s just simply stolen a bike. Dogs are not objects they’re loved members of the family who have personalities and emotions.”
Detective Chief Inspector Jamie Henderson of South Yorkshire Police said of the national issue: “Dog thefts can often be linked to organised crime groups as a way of making money. Stolen pedigree breeds can sell for thousands of pounds and with more people working from home at the moment the demand for dogs has increased. Please take steps to keep your dog safe and out of the hands of criminals.”
According to the UK’s largest lost and found dog service DogLost, the most common breeds to be taken are Springer and Cocker Spaniels. Their research also said that dogs were more likely to be stolen from the garden than anywhere else.
Guidance from South Yorkshire Police states that dog owners should never leave a dog tied-up unattended, should be wary of strangers who show interest in your dog and should ensure the garden or yard is secure.
However, keeping your dog safe is easier said than done when thieves are willing to use force. Last week, a woman in Sheffield was dragged out of her car by a man who demanded she hand over her dog which was in the vehicle with her.
Other such incidents have occurred elsewhere. Stephanie*, from London, has had several experiences where someone has tried to steal her Whippet while on a walk.
She said: “My shoulder was nearly pulled out one time, I’ve lost count of how many times my lead was grabbed.”
The lack of serious legal deterrents for thieves, combined with the often slow response from the police has left families feeling hopeless in their attempts to find their pet.
Miss Turner, whose dog is presumed to have been stolen due to the lack of confirmed sightings of him after he went missing, said the police have been unable to investigate because of the absence of evidence.
She said: “My family are devastated that we cannot find him and we are constantly stuck between continuing to cover miles every day searching for him or we stop and accept the fact he might just have really been taken. It is pain I’ve never felt before. For the seven years we’ve owned Dexter all we have done is love him and look after him and all I feel is guilt for not protecting him from this.”
Clare Palmer, 38, whose Dachshund Louis was stolen after he escaped from their house in Southend, Essex, had to gather evidence and take it to the police herself.
She started to receive calls 12 days after Louis disappeared from people who said they had seen three men put Louis in the back of a van after chasing him down the street. One of the men claimed to be Louis’ owner.
Miss Palmer immediately reported this information to the police but was told the case would be filed as there was no evidence.
“We then went door to door, called in shops and managed to appeal for dash cam footage and were very successful. We collected the evidence and handed it to the police,” she said.
The police are now investigating the incident but this has been slower than the family had hoped.
In 2018, the Dogs Trust reported that a survey found 99% of respondents considered their pet to be a family member. Therefore the emotional impact on owners whose dogs have been stolen is understandably huge.
Caroline McLoughlin, 50, described the loss of her dog as like a death in the family.
Her Alaskan Malamute, Bailey, was stolen from just outside Tipperary Town in Ireland, and she has since been in contact with police in Wales, Brighton and Sheffield to try and find her.
She said: “It is just heart breaking, we’re in turmoil, it’s like someone has stolen my child. She’s amazing, friendly, loves hugs and kisses and we just don’t know what to do anymore. I’ve joined every dog site and put posts up everywhere, we are out of our minds.”
Miss Palmer has been struggling to sleep since her dog was taken and has been left with a feeling of emptiness and worry about the way he might be being treated.
She has also been called by people claiming to have Louis but has arrived to find no one there.
“I have had calls saying they have killed him, I have calls saying they are going to kill him, all from private numbers. It’s so distressing,” she said.
A petition to make dog theft a specific crime has reached over 200,000 signatures and campaigners are encouraging supporters to write to their local MP.
The petition demands a minimum eight year sentence and a fine of at least £5,000 for those found guilty of dog theft.
To find more information go to https://www.pettheftreform.com/
To sign the petition go to https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/560216
Anyone with information on a stolen dog should contact the police immediately.
*Surname withheld to protect anonymity.http://youtu.be/HyFEwHk55QM