Dog theft a big problem in Devon & Cornwall

Dog theft has been under discussion for some time now, as the incidence has increased during lockdown. Dogs are stolen for resale (prices rocketed during lockdown), for dreadful puppy farming, and, worst of all, for dog fighting (often used as bait).

A Freedom of Information request has revealed that Devon and Cornwall has seen a 33-percent rise in the offence of pet theft during 2020, in comparison to 2019.

Nationally, dog theft alone has risen by 250-percent in the UK, a rise being attributed to the ongoing Covid-19 restrictions and the subsequent demand for lockdown pets. Those most on the wanted list include Frenchies, Pomeranians, Labradors, German Shepherds, Springer Spaniels and Huskies.

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It comes as a petition to make pet theft a ‘specific crime’ in UK law with tougher sentencing has gained traction, with well over 500,000 signatures.

Devon and Cornwall is among the worst in the country, according to Police Crime Commissioner Alison Hernandez, speaking on a Facebook Live Q&A session on Thursday, March 12.

She indicated that 256 reports of dog theft had been reported in the last three years, and only two people had been charged. This is because the police don’t seem to take dog theft seriously enough, where dogs are treated as property (like a handbag).

She said: If you are going to report a dog theft, it will go down as theft of property, and it’s not an offence in its own right”.

She added that only one in five pets are returned to their owners if they are stolen or lost, and only one per cent of thefts lead to charges.“

The penalty for pet theft is a maximum of up to seven years in prison, which never happens,” she added.

“I don’t think there has been one case where that has happened. The one per cent leading to charges will get less than six months, and it would be highly likely it would be a suspended sentence, so not even an imprisonable offence straight away.

“We all believe our pets are part of our family, and we all believe the level of harm to us of this happening to us is high. It’s like the removal of a family member, and we don’t think the sentencing guidelines are helping the courts to deliver a stronger sentence.”

She continued to say that Devon and Cornwall was one of the most prevalent areas for dog theft in the country.

She added that there was an understanding that around 25 per cent of dog thefts were linked to serious and organised crime.

Vet Help Direct says on their website:

5 Ways to Keep Your Dog Safe

Pet ID

It is now mandatory to have your dog microchipped in the UK. It is a quick and safe way to uniquely identify them. The process implants a little microchip with a unique code under their skin. Should your dog ever be lost or stolen, the chip can be scanned and your details will show up. This can make it very easy to contact you and return your beloved pet.

Please get your dog microchipped and registered with a local vet as soon as you can. You can also give your dog extra identification on their collar tags, such as a name and telephone number. Some modern collars can even connect to your phone for GPS tracking if your dog goes missing.

Read: Microchipping Law – Is it Working?

House Security

Many of the recent thefts have involved thieves taking dogs from their homes. Never leave your dog unattended out in the garden where they can be easily snatched. Keep your doors and windows locked while you are out, ideally keep curtains and blinds shut, so thieves cannot look in and see a potential target. In fact, avoid leaving your pet at home while you are out where possible. Furthermore, try and remove anything that could give thieves a clue there is a dog inside your home, such as toys in the garden, pet food bags in the bins, or ‘beware of the dog’ signs on your gate.

Out and About

Sadly, your dog may not be safe from thieves while out and about either. Never leave your dog unattended in a parked car (for health reasons on hot days too!) or tied up outside a shop, as they can quickly be taken. At parks and other open spaces, you should be wary of letting them off the lead; ideally, train them to come back to you when called, and keep them in your sight. In these winter months, giving them reflective coats and flashing lights to wear will ensure they are easily spotted by you and make them more visible to motorists. It may be better to use an extendable lead so they can get a runaround while still being safe and secure. As above, mark the leads with your name and telephone number, in case they run off with the lead still attached!

Extra Precautions 

Following the above tips will go a long way to keeping your pet safe. However, dog charities and the police have noted that certain kinds of dogs are more at risk of theft than others. We recommend being extra careful if you own any of these. Female dogs are at a much higher risk. They (if entire) can be bred from and used to produce more lucrative illegal puppies on puppy farms.

Certain breeds are worth more so are more frequently targeted by thieves – these include Cocker and Springer Spaniels, Labradors, Frenchies and Chihuahuas. Dogs with rarer colour coats too are also a valuable prize for dog-nappers. Finally, if you are the lucky owner of puppies, be very careful. Young puppies are often not yet microchipped, so are easier to sell on, and very valuable to thieves. Avoid spreading the news around that you have new puppies, and never leave them alone.

Unfortunate Circumstances

Even with all the best attention in the world, some dogs do go missing. We hope that most of these have simply wandered off, and will come home soon, but thievery is a prevalent issue right now. If you suspect your dog is lost or stolen, contact the police to file a report.

You should also contact local vets and pounds; your dog may have been handed in and is simply waiting to be reunited with you (again, microchipping can speed this process up considerably). Some cases have been reported where thieves steal dogs, wait for fliers to be put up offering a reward, then ‘return’ the pet to claim the reward or even contact the owner for a ransom! Police recommend that you do not offer a financial reward for the return of lost pets to discourage this. However, advertising your pet is lost has led to some success stories. Social media and lost pet websites can get the word spread far and wide.

Closing Thoughts

We hope that when the global situation improves and the demand for dogs drops, and after MPs (hopefully) introduce new legislation targeting pet thieves, we can stop being so concerned about dog-napping. Until then, it is a good idea to keep our 5 tips in mind, so that you can rest easy knowing your dog is safe in their bed, ready for more fun tomorrow.

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