This is why lockdown has led to a surge in dog thefts - and how to keep your pet safe

Dog theft in the UK has been on the rise since the country was plunged into lockdown in 2020.

With demand for a puppy far outweighing supply, criminal gangs have taken to swiping dogs from their owners now more than ever.

The Dogs Trust is calling for a tougher crackdown on puppy thieves as a growing trend in dognapping crimes has swept the country since the first lockdown.

For many dog owners, the three national lockdowns have meant they can spend more time at home with their canine companion.

But hundreds of dog owners have been left in despair since having their pets stolen with many more reporting suspicious activity while walking their pooches.

Experts have said the demand for dogs has soared throughout the pandemic – meaning costs have skyrocketed for popular puppies as the demand outweighs the supply.

A recent study by DogLost, a lost and found dog charity in the UK, estimates a 250% increase in dog thefts nationwide during the pandemic, according to reports.

Costs for some puppies has been pushed from £500 to £2000, which has prompted the Home Secretary to look into tougher measures for perpetrators.

‘The costs for some dogs is increasing month on month’

Dogs Trust’s chief executive, Owen Sharp, said: “Demand for dogs is at an all-time high and prices for some of the UK’s most desirable dog breeds are at their highest in three years, and possibly at an all-time high, with the costs for some dogs increasing month on month since lockdown began last year.

“Given the high demand for dogs in recent months and the increase in prices, it is no wonder criminals are taking advantage of the situation.

“Our dogs play such a huge and important part in our lives but sadly thousands are stolen each year, which is absolutely heartbreaking.”

What is the punishment for dog thieves?

The government has said it is already an offence to steal a dog under the Theft Act 1968, with a maximum penalty of seven years.

But dogs are classed as property under the act, meaning criminals would be punished in the same way if they had stolen a laptop.

Mr Sharp added: “Current sentencing does very little to deter thieves and does not take into consideration how devastating it can be to have your dog taken from you. “Punishment for dog theft is determined by the monetary value of the dog, meaning perpetrators are often given fines which do not reflect the emotional impact of dog theft on the families involved.

“We fully support any action to introduce tougher sentences that will act as a deterrent for those committing these crimes. At the very least, a community order or custodial sentence being given, rather than a fine.”

What other measures can I put in place to keep my dog safe? 

The Dogs Trust is telling pet owners to remember to keep their dog ‘safe, spottable and searchable’.

Useful advice from the charity includes keeping your dog’s microchip up-to-date, never leave your dog alone in public, fit your garden gate with a lock and ensure your dog is wearing a collar with your name, phone number and address on it.

In the event of the worst case scenario happening, the charity urges owners to report the theft to police and ask for a crime reference number – while insisting the dog should be recorded as stolen, not missing.

What is being done about dog thefts in the UK? 

Aside from charities lobbying the government for harsher sentences for thieves – Nottinghamshire Police is the first force in the country to employ a dedicated dog theft officer.

Newly promoted Chief Inspector Amy Styles-Jones has just been given the job of being Nottinghamshire Police force’s lead on animal cruelty and pet thefts.

She has three pet Chihuahuas called Tink, Jasper and Josie.

She said: “As an animal lover myself I relish the prospect of ensuring we take a compassionate response to the developing situation in regards to dog theft and any animal cruelty. I am proud to be part of a force where such a commitment has been given.”

A version of this article originally appeared on our sister title, NationalWorld