Organised gangs behind a surge of dog thefts across the country.
Thousands of dogs are being stolen every year, many by organised gangs, and being sold on the black market in a trade increasingly driven by the internet.
By Ben Leach, News Reporter, The Sunday Telegraph
7:20AM GMT 13 Jan 2013
As the full scale of “dognapping” in England is revealed, experts say an estimated 3,500 thefts were reported last year — an increase of around 17 per cent on the previous 12 months.
While some dogs are stolen from kennels and outhouses, thieves are getting increasingly bold — with animals being taken as they are being walked by their owners, and others being specifically targeted in burglaries.
Gangs’ most popular targets are trained working dogs, such as labradors, although other popular types such as chihuahuas and pugs also figure highly in the list of breeds stolen.
The biggest rise has been in thefts of cocker spaniels, following an increase in popularity after the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge adopted a puppy, Lupo.
Among high-profile victims is Sheridan Smith, the actress, whose soar Pei, Enid, was twice stolen from her home in Crouch End, north London, although the animal was returned on both occasions after she made public appeals.
Annabel Karmel, the cookery writer, had to pay a £750 ransom after Hamilton, her Samoyed, was stolen from a van belonging to her dog walker, along with 10 other animals.
The pet was returned 10 days later after she received a phone call from a woman demanding a ransom.
It is believed some of the animals are being stolen to order, and others are sold — often over the internet — to buyers in other parts of Britain. Stolen animals can fetch more than £2,000.
According to Dog Lost, a non-profit organisation that aims to reunite owners with their missing animals, the crime spree is being driven by the increasing popularity of certain breeds with celebrity owners, as well as by a police reluctance to tackle it.
Last weekend, The Telegraph reported how officers were investigating the theft of almost 20 animals in southern England. But, according to Dog Lost, this represents only a small fraction of the total. They say that most of the thefts go unrecorded because officers investigate reports of stolen dogs only if there is evidence of a crime.
Last year, the organisation, which keeps the country’s only database of missing and stolen dogs, received about 3,500 reports of dog thefts – estimated to be far more than those recorded by police forces.
Nik Oakley, from the group, said: “One of the difficulties in addressing the problem is that police are generally reluctant to even give a crime number unless the owner can prove the dog isn’t simply missing.”
However, faced with a surge of recent cases, some forces appear to be waking up to the apparent scale of the problem, and have even issued public warnings. Hampshire and Thames Valley Police warned that a spate of thefts over the New Year seemed to be the work of organised gangs.
Detectives urged owners to lock their kennels and microchip their pets. The two forces dealt with 19 cases in December alone.
In one case, thieves broke into a kennel in the back garden of a house in the village of Cadmore End in Buckinghamshire, and stole two labradors — Pip, a three-and-a-half-year-old female worth £2,000 and Maggie, a one-year-old worth £1,000.
The dog’s owner, Trisa Lambourne, 47, whose husband is a gamekeeper, said: “Pip was a fully trained gun dog and Maggie was part-trained. Whoever stole them has the benefit of that training without having invested any of their time in them.”
In another incident in Beckenham, south-east London, a man carrying a knife snatched Ollie, a two-year-old male chihuahua worth £1,000, from a 12-year-old girl. Tae Bennett was walking her dog near her house when she was approached by two men, a woman and a young child in a car.
One of the men snatched the dog before driving off. Tae’s stepfather, Dana Maroof, 36, a corporate travel agent, said: “For a while afterwards she was inconsolable. We put posters up everywhere and we got a phone call from someone claiming to have seen him at a nearby travellers’ site.
“We asked the police to investigate but they told us they weren’t prepared to go on to the site unless there was evidence of a major crime.”
In another incident in St Mary Cray, a nearby village, Biscuit, a five-year-old male springer spaniel worth £500, was stolen by burglars who had been keeping the house under surveillance. They struck in the 30 minutes during which the dog was left at home alone on weekdays.
Its owner, Magda Williams, 64, a civil servant said: “The window was smashed but the only thing they took was Biscuit and a small hand-held radio. Nothing else was touched. Police think they had been watching it for weeks.”
Mrs Williams was later re¬united with Biscuit, after several months, when the dog was taken to a vet, who discovered its microchip.
In Essex, where police have recorded 20 dog thefts in the past six months, Ripple, a two-year-old cocker spaniel worth £1,000, was stolen last month from a kennel on a farm in Latchingdon.
In the same county Jimmy, a six-month-old whippet worth around £400, was stolen while its owner was out riding a horse on her farm in Chelmsford.
Leona Browne, 27, a stable groom, said: “Lots of my neighbours have had their dogs stolen as well. It’s a real problem in the area.
“We reported it to the police but they weren’t interested. They said they don’t deal with missing dogs and told me to report it to the council dog warden.”
Colin Butcher, of The Pet Detectives agency, which investigates cases of missing and stolen pets, said that the police figures were only the tip of the iceberg.
“Thefts have gone up because the majority of police forces just do not have the resources to investigate,” he said.
“It’s also easy to buy and sell dogs on the internet, and prices for some breeds have got so high that buyers are beginning to turn away from traditional breeders.”
A spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers acknowledged that there had been a rise in dog thefts in recent years, particularly among pedigree animals.
He said: “Experience has told us that where there is a market for certain dogs, there is generally an increase in the theft of those particular breeds.
“If there is evidence of a theft occurring, or a police officer reasonably suspects an offence of theft, it will be investigated.”