A PET OWNER’S BIGGEST FEAR: THE RISE OF THE DOGNAPPERS AND HOW NOT TO BE A VICTIM
Leaving pets tied up in public places is dangerous with the increased number of dog thefts
BELOVED prized pets are being stolen to order and sold for thousands on the black market, leaving their owners distraught.
By anyone’s standards Dawn Maw has gone to great lengths to get her beloved champion dog back. It was in December when the married mother from Barnsley, South Yorkshire, witnessed her German short-haired pointer Angel brazenly being stolen. That morning Dawn had been out walking her four dogs and was helping one of the others back into the car when the driver of a white Transit van pulled up, made a quick grab for Angel and sped off.
Dawn was left aghast. Since that morning she has spent £3,000 putting up 15,000 missing posters of her pet - who has won five championship show titles - and has spent another £500 on hiring a pet detective agency. Every day for two months she has scoured the web for any sign of her dog being put up for sale and when all that failed even remortgaged her house to raise a £10,000 reward for Angel’s safe return.
It’s believed to be the largest amount ever offered for a missing pet in Britain. “I did everything with Angel,” says Dawn, who has lost two stone through stress and has been prescribed sleeping pills. “I am desperate to get her back.”
I did everything with Angel. I am desperate to get her back
Unfortunately her situation is hardly unique. Dognapping across the country is on the increase with an estimated 3,500 thefts being reported last year, a 20 per cent increase on the previous 12 months. In many cases victims are prepared to hand over huge sums in reward money, or as ransom.
“I have a great deal of empathy for someone who finds themselves in this position,” says Mandy Jones from the charity Blue Cross. “People form such strong bonds with their pets that they will do almost anything to get them back. They’re part of the family.”
High-profile victims of dog theft include cookery writer Annabel Karmel, whose Samoyed dog Hamilton was stolen from a van belonging to her dog walker, along with 10 other animals. Karmel received a phone call from a woman demanding a £750 ransom, which she paid and only then was her pet returned.
“We’re seeing several types of dog theft at the moment,” says Beverley Cuddy, editor of the magazine Dogs Today. “The one that is on the increase is exactly this type where people are stealing pet dogs cynically for either reward or ransom money. It’s a growing phenomenon and all the more disturbing because the more it’s talked about, the more criminals think it’s a nice little earner. Often it’s easy for them.
“The dog may be wearing a collar with the owner’s phone number on, or they will simply wait for missing posters to go up. A reward may be offered straightaway or they’ll say to the owner that they may have some information about their dog’s whereabouts but they might need to give someone some money first. The owner is often terrified. They know they’re dealing with the person who stole their dog but they’ve got them over a barrel and so they pay the money. It’s heartbreaking.” One of the most popular types of dogs being targeted are working breeds, such as trained gun dogs including cocker spaniels. “This is the other side of dog theft,” says Cuddy. “It can cost around £8,000 to fully train a gun dog and it seems there is a lucrative black market in selling them on. I believe that this is why Angel was stolen. The fact that she is a champion is probably irrelevant because unless you have the paperwork proving her credentials it doesn’t mean anything. But Angel is also a working gun dog.”
The rise in the theft of cocker spaniels may also be linked to the breed’s surge in popularity after the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge adopted a puppy, Lupo. Cuddy says the kennel housing Lupo’s father was broken into.
“It happened over New Year’s Eve,” she says. “Several dogs were stolen although it was never confirmed whether Lupo’s father was among them.”
According to Jane Hayes, the founder of Dog Lost - a non-profit organisation that aims to reunite owners with their missing canines – chihuahuas are another breed often targeted. “It’s simply because they are very popular at the moment,” she says. “And they’re so tiny a thief can practically pick one up and put it in their pocket.”
Thieves, though, are getting ever more brazen. “I know of a case where a knife was pulled on an owner to get the dog from them and when they protested they were stabbed,” says Cuddy. “Other dogs are lured away with treats when they are being walked off the lead and some are pinched from owners’ gardens. There have also been many sightings of dogs being bundled into vans by organised groups.
“There are certainly rackets going on. There is a little village near me in Surrey which is practically the Bermuda Triangle for dogs. They simply vanish and the local paper even reported that £500 is the going rate to get your dog back. One of the problems is that getting your local policeman to take your missing dog seriously is very hard. People’s attachment to their dogs is so strong but I often feel their misery is trivialised.”
Nik Oakley from Dog Lost believes that many incidents of theft go unrecorded. “Unless it’s absolutely obvious that someone’s property has been broken into police won’t register dog theft as a crime and give it a crime number,” she says.
“Thieves are very rarely caught and if they are they don’t usually receive harsh penalties. The situation is getting better, though. In some parts of the country, particularly southern counties such as Hampshire, police are becoming much more interested and recognise that dog theft is organised crime.”
Since it was set up 10 years ago Dog Lost has reunited 27,000 pets with their owners. Hayes set the organisation up after her dog was stolen and she has sold her home to keep it afloat. Owners register missing animals and she relies on 60,000 volunteers to help her find them.
Unfortunately Cuddy says, some owners don’t help themselves. “The trouble is some will leave their dog tied up outside a shop. That makes it so easy for opportunistic thieves. To those people I’d say, ‘You wouldn’t leave your child tied up outside a shop so don’t leave your dog.’ Otherwise there could be heartbreaking consequences.”
STEPS TO SAFEGUARD YOUR PAL
THE charity Blue Cross advises owners to take steps to protect their animals:
• Think twice before leaving your dog tied up outside a shop. They may become a tempting target for opportunistic thieves. And don't leave your pet alone in the car, even for a few minutes. Thieves can easily break in.
• Make sure your animal is microchipped and that you keep your contact details up to date. Recently Miriam Francome – the former wife of champion jockey John Francome – was reunited with her missing dog Tweed thanks to its chip. Tweed had been stolen as a puppy and was discovered a full eight years later in an Oxfordshire village not far from Miriam's home.
• Take clear photographs of your dog from various angles and make a note of any distinguishing features. Also take snaps of you and your pet together. This may help you to prove ownership at a later date if you need to.
• Be wary of taking your dog off the lead, especially if you are in an unfamiliar area where it may get lost. Vary the times of your walks as well as your routes. Some pets are targeted and might be snatched while out with their owners.
TOP BREEDS TARGETED
Jack Russell terrier
Staffordshire bull terrier