Pet owners are living in fear of losing their beloved animals to dognappers after thefts spiralled due to a rise in demand because of lockdown.
Research suggests just 23% of dogs stolen in 2020 were reunited with their owners, and just 48 out of 1,492 dognappings, 3%, led to the thief facing justice.
Devastated owners have told how they received menacing ransom demands after their dogs were snatched.
Bodeane Rostron, 35, from Bolton, Lancs, said his Old English Bulldog Violet was stolen on April 8 when thieves broken into his caravan.
He said: “After she was stolen I received a call from an anonymous number and the person said, ‘Give me £2,000 and you can have your dog’.
“I told them I didn’t have that much money. It’s absolutely vile, no words can describe. It’s devastating, It’s like your child’s been taken.
“Organised criminals are stealing dogs and trying to sell them back. They’re criminals and they’re organised. It’s easy money for them.
“A dog is defenceless as a baby. You do everything to look after them. Violet is so placid and was really comical. Dog theft is rife and is absolutely disgusting, something has to be done.
“I think there needs to be longer sentences for stealing dogs. It is a serious crime. It is a living creature.”
Research by Teamdogs.co.uk shows there were 1,699 thefts of dogs reported to UK police forces in 2020, no change from 2019. But Direct Line estimates that 2,438 dogs were stolen.
Campaigners say the true number cannot be known because police do not list it as a specific crime.
The theft of a dog can be listed in the same way as a wheelbarrow or a garden gnome, under “theft other”.
It is also feared that dog theft is under-reported, as the public believe police won’t help them.
Debbie Matthews, from Stolen and Missing Pets Alliance, said: “If you called the police now they can tell you how many bikes they have stolen because they have a separate definition but they couldn’t do the same for dogs.”
Debbie, Bruce Forsyth’s daughter, has been campaigning for a change in the law since her two terriers were stolen from her car in 2006.
She said: “I was lucky. Because of my father, I got them back. We did a live appeal on GMTV and both dogs had been sold on.”
Debbie, 65, said: “Dogs are priceless, irreplaceable members of our families and deserve to be treated with the respect they deserve.
The Mirror’s newsletter brings you the latest news, exciting showbiz and TV stories, sport updates and essential political information.
The newsletter is emailed out first thing every morning, at 12noon and every evening.
Never miss a moment by signing up to our newsletter here.
“We want dog theft made a specific crime in it’s own right. If they can do it bicycles they can do it for dogs.
“All the figures are desperately sad and just show you we need the Government to step in and help the public. It’s got to another level now.
“We’ve all been talking about it for so long. People are afraid to walk with their dogs, afraid to talk about their dogs or share photographs of them. That shouldn’t be, that’s one of the joys.”
The Teamdogs.co.uk study from 37 police forces in the UK out of 45 found the most commonly stolen dogs in 2020 were the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, French Bulldog, Chihuahua, Cocker Spaniel, German Shepherd, Jack Russell, Pug, Bulldog, American Bulldog and Labrador. London had most dog thefts reported with 235, followed by West Yorkshire (121) and Kent (117).
It found 43% of dogs were stolen from homes, and 18% from gardens.
And the biggest increase in dog thefts was seen in Northumberland, up 80% to 97, South Yorkshire (up 71% to 82), Cumbria (up 63% to 31), and Devon and Cornwall (up 53% to 61).
The research found 51% dog theft cases in 2020 were closed without a suspect being identified.
One in 12 dogs (8%) were taken from a park or open space or from the street. In July last year, a dog was stolen in Merseyside by a delivery driver.
Former Detective Inspector, Mark Randell, who has a background in crime analysis, said: “Dog theft needs to be recorded as a specific crime by every police force.”
Mr Randell, form the Stolen and Missing Pets Alliance, said: “At the moment we are relying on unreliable figures.
“If it is listed as specific crime we can then look at crime hotspots and national trends.
“Quite clearly dog theft is a big issue and it is quite clearly under reported.
“Sometimes people don’t report crimes because they don’t think anything is going to be done about it.
“They don’t think the police will help and until recently they probably haven’t.”
The www.teamdogs.co.uk research shows most commonly stolen dogs between 2016 and 2020 were the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Chihuahua, French Bulldog, Jack Russell, Pug, Cocker Spaniel, German Shepherd, Labrador, Yorkshire Terrier and Bulldog.
Data was received from 37 police forces in the UK out of 45.
Desperate Karen Crawley says she has suffered “emotional torture” since her Chester disappeared.
Karen, 51, a development coach from Hanworth in Middlesex, is a Type 1 Diabetic and eight year old Chester had become her medical support dog after getting him as a pup.
Despite not having any training, he would sit and whine at her feet when her blood sugars dropped dangerously low, until she took action.
But since he disappeared seven weeks ago while on a walk, she not only has lost her constant companion but now has to test herself 12 times a day to make sure she doesn’t slip into hypoglycemic coma.
And then she has been forced to endure constant scam and malicious phone calls “We were walking on our usual route in Pevensey Road Open Space, when he raced around a bend just ten seconds ahead of me,” she said.
“But when I got there he had completely vanished. We searched for five hours that night but nobody had seen him.
“I’ve walked so many miles looking for him. He had his collar with my name and details and he was chipped. So whoever has him now it’s called ‘theft by finding’.
“I was so hurt when I first phoned the police and they said they could not deal with ‘lost property’. He’s not property, he’s my family!
She said after several weeks passed and he could be classed as ‘theft through finding’ she was then given a crime reference number.
Karen now lives in hope that a distinctive ‘Mickey Mouse’ marking on his side may help her get him back.
“It has been emotional torture. I’ve had scam calls where people say ‘I’ve got your dog. We’re sending him as dog bait tomorrow. It’s going to cost you to get it back. You know I’m in organised crime.’
“I knew it was a scam thanks to Dog Lost, who have been amazing. I don’t know what I would have done without them.
“So I asked for a proof of life photo and of course that didn’t come.
“But these calls are intimidating and it’s the little voice that kills you saying ‘what if?’
“Then there’s the malicious calls, kids seeing your number on a poster and calling to say ‘I’ve stabbed your dog 12 times in the chest’.
“To these people I would say ‘please have a heart and think of what that person is going through!
“He’s like my child and he was with me every day but now he’s not.
“Dog theft really needs to be a separate crime”, she added and said the punishments also needs to be harsher.
Widower Gerald McCarthy, 69, said he felt suicidal after his Chihuahua Molly was stolen and he received death threats.
After putting out posters he suffered the further agony of 21 scam calls in one day.
The caller told him to pay £1,000 or Molly would have her “throat slit” and he would be next.
The last menacing call that day came at 11.50pm from someone falsely claiming they had found his six year old pet which was taken on March 18th.
“It’s beyond words how I feel. I got Molly after my wife Brenda died and she has been my constant companion ever since,” the pensioner from Croxley Green Hertfordshire, said tearfully.
“She was the reason for getting up in the morning since my wife passed away.
“These calls are very disturbing because you live in hope that one of these calls will be genuine.
“I wouldn’t pay a ransom because that’s just passing the problem onto somebody else.
“You don’t stop the crime, you encourage it if I did that.”
Talking about when Molly vanished, he said: “It was actually five weeks ago and I was out in the communal garden with little Molly my little chihuahua.
“I came in to put the kettle on around 10am and went straight back out. I was gone for seconds really and she was gone and I haven’t seen her since.”
Gerry, who spent 47 years working at Smithfields Meat Market, said: “ I haven’t been able to sleep properly since she was taken and I’ve even had to go on antidepressants”.
Hertfordshire Police are investigating.