Our four-legged friends play an important role for many of us as this pandemic continues to disrupt our lives. For those living alone, their dog is often the only living being they see all day. And who can argue that a welcoming waggy tail or a cuddle with your canine doesn’t lift your spirits in a world where we can no longer hug each other?
But worryingly, our dogs are in danger. So called “dog-napping” is reportedly reaching epidemic proportions across the country. Mark Shelford, Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner candidate for neighbouring county Avon and Somerset, is highlighting this increasing problem and holding online meetings with concerned community groups.
He explains: “This is a particularly heartless crime, cruel to the animal and cruel for their owners. Even working dogs, found in many parts of our rural region, become companions. Losing them causes anguish, anger and despair. Lockdown has encouraged more families in our cities and towns to own dogs, while in rural communities the loss of working animals, such as gun dogs, can directly impact owners’ income.”
My Puppies were stolen from Marnhull, and then dumped
In December of last year, a dog-loving Dorset resident from Marnhull (wishes to remain anonymous) went through the agony of two eight week-old Weirmardoodle puppies being stolen. Here’s her story:
“I immediately rang my vet and the microchip company to report the dogs had been stolen. I also contacted the police.
I then posted on Facebook to alert people and within about three hours it had about 5000 shares. I’d shared posts in the past for other people about dog thefts so really hoped this would help.
I was just heartbroken. One of these puppies was going to be for my boyfriend and the other was going to a lovely old couple.
“I spent an agonising day until later that afternoon I got a call from a woman in Verwood.
She had found the puppies dumped just 150 yards from a busy main road. She alerted a nearby farm owner who had fortunately seen my post on Facebook.
When I went to rescue the puppies, they were crying with excitement to see me again. I was just glad they were together as I’d no idea what trauma they may have been through, snatched from their familiar surroundings. People who commit these crimes clearly have no feelings. And leaving them by a busy road just shows how cruel they are.
My puppies were only lost for a day but that was bad enough.
The culprits were never found – I think it was opportunists who then got scared when they saw the posts on Facebook. Dog theft needs to be addressed as a crime that warrants a jail sentence – it causes so much hurt behind the scenes for dog owners and their families.“
Dogs are stolen for breeding, to sell, held to ransom, or even so thieves can claim the reward which many desperate families offer for the safe return of their canine friend. Worse still, some end up being used in illegal dog-fighting.
Mark Shelford: “The criminals behind these cruel crimes are often highly sophisticated. They trail potential target animals, then watch their house or farm until the owners are away.”
People working from home and having bored children to entertain are two factors driving up demand for dogs, thereby encouraging an increase in dog thefts. Stolen pedigree breeds now sell for thousands of pounds.
A pet shop in Wimborne recently had an enquiry from a harassed father wondering if £2000 was the right amount to pay for a non-pedigree puppy!
Research by Dogs’ Trust Salisbury shows demand for dogs is at an all-time high and prices for some of the UK’s most desirable dog breeds are at their highest in three years, and possibly ever, with the costs for some dogs increasing month on month since lockdown began. During 2020, the Kennel Club reported a staggering 168 per cent increase in people searching for puppies.
Throughout the first lockdown, the charity DogLost found an increase of 65 per cent in thefts between March 23 and June 1 2020.
Simon Perry, Inspector with the North and East Dorset Neighbourhood Policing Team told the Blackmore Vale:
“Whilst dog thefts continue to remain low in Dorset at present, we understand that social media channels have reports of dog thefts across the UK with sightings of suspicious vehicles. As a crime trend, gun dogs appear to be desirable to offenders. Thefts have occurred when dogs were left unattended in vehicles or in back gardens. If your dogs are kennelled, are they out of public view? Also think about security lighting or CCTV and always lock garden gates.”
A spokesperson at The Margaret Green Animal Rescue at Church Knowle, Wareham told us: “We’ve heard of an increased amount of attempts of theft in Dorset from owners out walking their dogs and strangers coming up trying to get information about their pet. There’s also been an increase of dog owners reporting on social media of attempted thefts locally.”
This organisation, which helps home unwanted pets, advised: “Make sure your dog always has a tag on its collar and if your dog has a tendency to run ahead on walks, keep them on a lead. As required by law, make sure your dog is microchipped and the details kept up to date, if you move for instance, so that the chip company can be alerted if the dog goes missing. This way if the dog is found or sold on and the new owner gets a vet to scan it, the microchip will flag up that it’s a missing pet. There’s also a website called DogHorn. This not-for-profit organisation has lots of advice and products to deter dog theft.’’
When the theft of a beloved family member is ranked merely as a minor crime, similar to the theft of a microwave, it looks like a small fine will not stop greedy criminals. Dogs Trust Salisbury’s Rehoming Centre Manager, Claire Rowe said: “Current sentencing does very little to deter thieves and doesn’t take into consideration how devastating it can be to have your dog stolen from you. Punishment for dog theft is determined by the monetary value of the dog, meaning perpetrators are often given fines which don’t reflect the emotional impact on the families involved.
“We fully support any action to introduce tougher sentences that will act as a deterrent for those committing these crimes. At the very least, a community order or custodial sentence being given, rather than a fine.”