Thieves are targeting designer dogs in the run-up to Christmas, animal welfare groups have warned.
Cockapoos, French bulldogs and pugs worth thousands of pounds are being stolen and sold on to unsuspecting buyers.
Heartbroken owners of missing dogs say there is no deterrent in law because pets are classed as property by police. This means that, if thieves are caught, courts only take the value of a dog into consideration, not the emotional distress caused to owners.
A panel survey of 808 dog owners in Scotland carried out by charity the Dogs Trust found 8% of respondents had a dog stolen.
In a separate social media survey of 983 dog owners in Scotland, 328 people said they knew someone whose dog had been stolen, and 281 thefts were reported to the police. But only two people said the report resulted in a prosecution.
The report concluded: “This evidence suggests that prosecution rates for dog theft are low. A number of people expressed the sentiment that the police did not take dog theft seriously, and this was given as a reason for not reporting to the police at all.”
Jennifer Terris, the Dogs Trust campaigns manager in Scotland, who carried out the research, said: “The law says a dog is property so police are restricted in what they can do. We need better recording of dog thefts by police and new sentencing guidelines that reflect the emotional impact of dog theft.
“We have heard of people signed off work with stress after their dog is stolen. There is a grieving process but no closure because you don’t necessarily know what happened to your dog, or what is being done by police to help. And that grief is not always acknowledged by society.”
Amanda Russell runs Dognapped UK and Ireland from her home in Kelso. She said she receives daily reports of stolen and missing dogs. And she saw an increase in cases in the run-up to Christmas.
She said designer dogs are always in high demand. She has also seen a recent increase in the theft of working dogs, which are sold to lampers – poachers who hunt at night.
Amanda said: “They are often stolen from gardens or taken when people leave dogs outside shops. But it’s getting more violent. People who are out walking their dogs have been assaulted before the dog is grabbed.
“It gets more desperate in the run-up to Christmas. People want to make money. And at this time of year people want puppies.
“Some designer dogs are sold for upwards of £1,000. Working dogs are less valuable but they are still sold for up to £250.
“And there is no deterrent because people who are caught are usually only fined. They’re not going to be put behind bars. So profits are there without the risks.”
Campaigners for reform have also criticised the police for failing to release figures that show the number of dog thefts in Scotland.
Forces in England and Wales have reported an upward trend in pet thefts in recent years, with an average of five reports a day last year. A record high 1,931 dog thefts were reported in 2018, 27% up on 2014.
However, Police Scotland do not have comparable figures. They say it is not possible to search for crime reports based upon the type of property stolen.
There is no official national register of stolen pets but animal welfare charity the Scottish SPCA is considering creating one.
Mike Flynn, chief superintendent at the Scottish SPCA, said: “We keep a log of stolen dogs, but if there was a national register or a central point where people could register a pet as lost or believed to be stolen, it would probably make life a lot easier.
“We are considering doing something on our website. So, instead of people calling us up, people could post it themselves and we would monitor it.”
Maurice Golden MSP, who is the Scottish Conservative spokesman on animal welfare, said pets should receive the protection in law they deserve.
He said: “Our pets are part of our families and it is absolutely right that we tighten the legislation to protect them.”
I know she was stolen… the dogs always come back
Kirsty Letham’s Patterdale Terrier, Angel, went missing from Cambuslang on December 3 last year. There is a £5,000 reward for her return.
Her husband Ross was walking Angel and one of their other dogs, Zeus, when she disappeared. The couple had saved up £300 to buy Angel.
Kirsty, 38, said: “It was about four o’clock in the afternoon when I got the call from my husband. When he told me Angel was gone I was heartbroken.
“Ross said Angel and Zeus were running around – we always let the dogs off the lead because they have great recall. They come back and get a clap and go off again.
“After 10 minutes Angel hadn’t come back but Zeus had. Ross panicked because they always came back together.
“I am disabled so I couldn’t help look for Angel but I phoned family and everyone was out until about nine o’clock at night. Then we phoned the police.”
Kirsty said officers told her it was not a police matter.
The couple and daughter Zoe, 20, continue to search, but they are convinced Angel was taken.
Kirsty said: “I know she was stolen because she had never disappeared before.
Kirsty revealed her other dogs, Zeus and Saint, have been affected by Angel’s disappearance. Both are on medication for stress.
My dogs just didn’t come back
Georgie Bell believes her dogs Ruby and Beetle were stolen. She said the pair of border terriers, worth £700, were snatched when she was out walking them near Jedburgh last December.
Police are now investigating but she said it took almost a year for officers to issue a crime reference number.
She said: “When we reported them stolen the police said they don’t chase missing dogs. I understand that – there was no hard evidence they were picked up.
“They were with me on a festive walk. I could hear them barking. Then it went quiet.
“They didn’t come back.
“Recently the police have been more helpful. Six weeks ago we got a crime reference number.”
Georgie has a Facebook group dedicated to finding Ruby and Beetle with more than 14,000 members. But her three children have been badly affected by th e dogs’ disappearance.
She said: “One of my children was bullied at school because of the online campaign.
“All they wanted for Christmas was their dogs back.”
Supporters of the search have put up a £20,000 reward for the return of the dogs. Georgie said: “People have said I should replace Ruby and Beetle and move on, but those dogs were my world.”
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