The numerous national lockdowns over the last 10 months has led to more people seeking a pet dog to add to their household. As a result 'dognapping' rings, that aim to capitalise on the growing market for pets pooches, have robbed breeders, owners and kennels to meet demand.
According to the latest research by the charity Dog Lost, the top five most commonly stolen dog breeds are Cocker Spaniels, English Springer Spaniels, Jack Russell Terriers, French Bulldogs and Staffordshire Bull Terriers.
The rise in dog thefts is believed to be driven by the high demand for puppies which has lead to a surge in prices.
Wayne May, senior police liaison officer at Dog Lost told explained to Tyla why dognapping has become such a huge problem in the last year. He said: "People were looking for companion animals at home during lockdown, which inadvertently sparked a rise in the value of dogs in general which obviously has been capitalised on.
"We were running out of dogs in the UK. We also have a big problem of dogs being illegally imported into the UK without paperwork at the moment and obviously people are having their dogs stolen specifically to be bred from.
"It has been a cascade of events."
Cocker Spaniels have become the most sought after dog breed amongst dognappers, with Wayne adding: "I don't like putting a retail value on animals to be honest but the average retail value for a cocker spaniel was £800-£1000 in 2018/2019. In 2020, the value went up to £3000-£5000.
"I work specifically with stolen dogs and we have recovered some dogs with puppies or puppies that have been sold. One thief earned £25,000 in one day just by selling puppies from one stolen dog.
We recovered more stolen dogs from that property and they were all pregnant. If he wasn't caught, he would have exceeded £100,000 from dog theft."
The RSPCA issued a warning to dog owners over the weekend after an incident in London in which a man posed as a charity worker in an attempt to gain access to a puppy.
The charity was alerted after a man knocked on a resident's door in New Southgate area of north London at lunchtime on Wednesday 13th January.
The man said he was from the RSPCA, had received a complaint about a barking dog and asked to see the owner's golden retriever puppy.
RSPCA Chief Inspector Clare Dew, who leads part of the London team, said: "Thankfully the dog owner was immediately suspicious of the man, who was wearing no uniform. They secured the door with the security chain and refused to allow the man access to the puppy.
"The man left the address and the puppy's owner contacted us. I checked to see if we had any officers in the area at the time and we didn't."
They also alerted police.
The RSPCA is now issuing a warning to Londoners, as well as people across England & Wales, to always check the identity of officers who come to your home.
According to data supplied by DogLost to Tyla, 465 thefts were reported to the charity in 2020, with the highest number in the Midlands, East Anglia, the northwest and the southeast. The previous year the charity's total was 172. The figures are likely to be higher because many dog thefts go unreported.
An RSPCA spokesperson said: "It's really concerning to see how many dogs are being stolen each year and we'd urge anyone who believed their pooch has been taken to report the incident to police immediately.
"As an animal welfare charity the RSPCA doesn't deal directly with pet theft - leaving criminal matters such as this to the expertise of police - but we believe the rise in dognapping could be as a result of the surging popularity, and value, of certain 'designer' breeds and fashionable crossbreeds.
"We'd urge all dog owners to take extra precautions to protect their pets from thieves by neutering them, ensuring they are microchipped with up-to-date contact details registered, ensuring they wear a collar with contact details embroidered or an engraved ID tag.
"We'd also advise that owners never leave their pets tied up outside shops or alone in cars, ensure their gardens are secure with gates locked, and ensure their pet has a good recall and doesn't stray too far when off-lead on walks.
"Anyone who suspects their dog may have been stolen should immediately alert police, contact their microchip company to register their pet as stolen and inform local rescue groups, vets, dog walkers and neighbours."
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