IT is every dog owner’s nightmare – having your beloved pet snatched.
Eight are stolen daily, latest figures show, marking a seven-year high.
French bulldogs and Jack Russells were the top targets last year, with London, West Yorkshire and Kent recording the most thefts.
The boom in demand for pets during the pandemic saw prices soar, making mutts a lucrative target.
Last year, 2,760 dogs were snatched, up 16 per cent since 2015, says Direct Line insurance. And that could be the tip of the iceberg say campaigners.
TV producer Lisa Loops has been “swamped” by owners desperate to find their dogs since she began making her documentary, Muddy Paws Crime, last spring.
Lisa, 52, of Maidenhead, Berks, said: “The police still too often treat dog theft as a civil matter, but there’s a huge criminal industry behind it.”
Last July, The Kennel Club reported 98 per cent of dog thieves are never charged – and in more than half of cases, a suspect is never identified.
The Government has said it will make pet abduction a criminal offense with up to five years in jail.
The most heartbreaking stories are those of stolen therapy dogs.
MATTHEW BARBOUR speaks to three such owners, plus one woman who was reunited with her stolen pet.
- Muddy Paws Crime is being produced unfunded by Leomina Productions. Find out more and watch the trailer at: facebook.com/muddypawscrime.
‘Children still kiss photos of Elvis and buy him presents’
Autism support dog Elvis was stolen from kennels in August last year.
The ten-month-old specially trained cockapoo was a lifeline to six-year-old Oscar Cobden, from Derby.
His mum Natallie, 34, who works in business development and is married to Andrew, 35, said:
“Oscar was diagnosed with autism in June 2019, and his educational psychologist recommended a dog to regulate his meltdowns and help him in social situations.
We got Elvis that November and the impact on Oscar was staggering.
He has no sense of danger – he would run into the road and climb up very high things – but having Elvis meant Oscar had a reason to walk sensibly.
In loud environments, Oscar would often have a meltdown.
But with Elvis there, he could cope, and his stammer disappeared because Oscar could talk to Elvis without feeling judged.
Late last summer, while we were away in the Lake District, we got a call from the kennels where Elvis was staying, to say he’d been stolen in the night. Oscar and his four-year-old sister Olivia were inconsolable.
They still kiss pictures of Elvis every night and we buy presents for him. But I know it’s unlikely he’ll come back now.
Oscar’s autism has become worse. He’s now on new medication to control his ADHD and his stammer of it has returned.
I wish the thieves could see the effect they’ve had on our little boy.
The police tried their best. Two people were arrested but there wasn’t enough evidence to convict them.
We can’t bear to think of replacing Elvis right now, but for Oscar’s wellbeing we might have no option. It’s all just so completely heartbreaking.”
THERE are a number of steps you can take to keep your dog safe.
A spokeswoman for the RSPCA said: “We would urge all owners to neutralize their pets, ensure they are microchipped and wear an engraved ID tag or a collar with contact details.
“We’d also advise owners against leaving their pets tied up outside shops or alone in cars. Their gardens should be secure with gates locked.
“Make sure the dog has a good recall and doesn’t stray too far when off the lead on walks.”
IF YOU SUSPECT YOUR DOG HAS BEEN STOLEN
- Alert the police.
- Contact the microchip company your dog is registered with to get it logged as stolen.
- Tell local rescue groups, vets, dog walkers and neighbors.
- Register them as missing with a company such as Animal Search, DogLost or the National Pet Register.
- Check to see if they have been handed in to the RSPCA.
- Post flyers through letter boxes and on notice boards and social media asking if anyone has seen your pet or spotted anything suspicious.
‘Kemo gave Olly unconditional love you can’t put a price on’
CANCER support dog Kemo disappeared during a walk with his owner Olly Hall in February 2018.
HGV driver Olly, 64, and his wife Deb, 58, have hired an investigator and offered a £2,000 reward to find their beloved Staffordshire terrier. Carer Deb, from Shortstown, Beds, said:
“Olly was diagnosed with aggressive non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in September 2016.
About a month after he started chemotherapy, we gave him a white Staffie puppy and told him he had to stay alive to look after this gorgeous dog.
Kemo – named after the drugs Olly owed his life to – would cuddle Olly to keep him warm when he couldn’t regulate his own body temperature, and gave him the kind of support and unconditional love you can’t put a price on.
During recovery, Olly would take Kemo on long walks to rebuild his strength. They were walking in nearby fields when Kemo disappeared. We carried out a massive search, roping in locals and using drones.
We had loads of hoax calls after offering the reward, which meant endless fruitless trips waiting with bowls of dog food, praying he would appear.
The police didn’t want to know, so we paid £900 for a private company to distribute leaflets and hired an investigator. Our Facebook group has 9,000 members and we’ve had celebrities like Tom Hardy repost our campaign.
Four years later, it still feels like a hole has been ripped in our hearts. The feelings of guilt and shame that somehow we did something wrong – it’s unbearable.
- See “Find Our Kemo” support group at facebook.com/groups/594067174262950.
‘Without Chester, I’ve had three hypoglaecemic episodes. I’ve lost a best friend and a lifeline.’
DIABETES support dog Chester, a nine-year-old cocker spaniel, went missing while on a walk with his owner Karen Crawley in March last year.
Personal development coach Karen, 53, from Hounslow, West London, said:
“I’ve had type 1 diabetes for 40 years. While I do regular blood-prick tests, I can have sudden, severe hypoglycaemic episodes, which can leave me unable to move or summon help.
Chester had the ability to smell if I was about to have a hypo and would sit at my feet and whine until I took action.
As a single woman who lives on her own, I’m in no doubt Chester has saved my life many times.
On March 4 last year I took him for a walk in our local park, and he ran out of sight – and never came back. Chester would always come if I called him, but he’d vanished.
The police said they don’t deal with “lost property”, which was like a knife in my heart. Chester was not “property”, he was part of my family. Without Chester, I’ve lost a best friend and also a lifeline for my health and self-confidence.
I now have a sensor on my arm that senses if my blood sugars are dropping. But I can only wear it for two weeks; then two weeks off.
I’ve had three massive hypos since Chester was taken and only by shouting at my smartspeaker have I managed to get help.
I simply can’t understand how someone could do this to me and to Chester.”
‘I was reunited with Nancy after four months. I have PTSD and other mental health issues so having her back de ella is priceless’
DENISE KELLY was distracted when her seven-year-old Staffordshire bull terrier Nancy went missing last April. Miraculously, they were reunited four months later. Denise, 49, of Colwyn Bay, Conwy, who does not work due to health problems, said:
“Nancy was staying with another family in Blackpool last April when I got a call to say she had been stolen during a walk.
I was in pieces. She was a rescue dog and too old for breeding. I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to steal her. We called the police and together with some good friends, “Team Nancy” set about putting up posters and alerts.
I contacted a private investigation company, but they wanted £1,200 and would only be able to tell me her location. They couldn’t bring her to me, and that was only a maybe.
Everywhere I turned, people seemed to be lying to me or trying to scam me at a time when I couldn’t have been more emotionally vulnerable. In July, Lisa Loops saw my Facebook campaign and offered to help with calls, emails and a Twitter campaign.
And finally, on August 16, Nancy and I were reunited by the police.
She had been found at a pet rescue centre, where she’d been taken by the man who had bought her from the thieves.
Nancy’s microchip had been scanned twice, but I hadn’t been contacted. Nobody has been arrested.
I suffer from PTSD and other mental health issues, so having Nancy back is priceless.”