According to DogLost, a UK charity that helps victims of dog theft, ‘dognappings’ have risen from 172 in 2019 to 465 in 2020, a rise of 170 per cent, leading to Nottinghamshire Police appointing a specialist dog theft officer to tackle the issue.
The surge in dognapping was driven by the greater demand for dogs from people spending more time at home during lockdown. It’s thought that in some areas, thieves are leaving white chalk marks outside homes to indicate to accomplices which homes have dogs worth stealing: the most popular targets being Staffordshire Bull Terriers, or high-value dogs such as Chihuahuas and Pugs.
With the above facts in mind, we got an early morning knock at the door a few months back to find an agitated neighbour asking that I check our back garden to see whether her prized and dearly loved dog had wandered in. Sadly he had not.
Understandably, she became increasingly distressed, immediately jumping to the conclusion that he’d been dognapped; and an expensive, beautifully groomed animal, he would be a possible target. I sat her down with a cuppa whilst computing in my mind how we could effectively help.
Had he simply escaped and wandered off into someone’s garden? Had he been chipped (almost certainly)? Was his disappearance more sinister?
Although not a dog owner myself, I do understand the bond formed between owners and their pets – the companionship and unconditional love and the mutual joy and exercise.
Fortunately, this episode had a happy ending. There had been a mix-up with the dog walker who exercises the animal during the week as my neighbour has a busy job and is often at meetings throughout the day. The walker had driven the dog off to exercise on the trails with her other charges, not realising that my neighbour was at home that morning.
In mid- November my brother told me that their family pet has ‘disappeared’ causing him, and more particularly, his wife and daughter great sorrow. They have placed posters around their neighbourhood, and the animal is chipped, but things are not looking good, and they are convinced that he’s been ‘napped’.
Dognappers will face tougher sentences under plans to create a new criminal offence of pet abduction due to the sharp rise during lockdown. The proposal, drawn up by the Pet Theft Taskforce, aims to acknowledge that animals are sentient creatures and should not fall under the category of ‘property’.
Let’s hope the proposed changes in the law slow down the animal napping trend, among the most heinous of crimes, providing rich pickings for the traffickers, who campaigners and politicians noted were unlikely to go to prison, although inflicting huge emotional turmoil, akin to bereavement, upon innocent families.
The UK Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “Pets are much loved members of the family in households up and down the country, and reports of a rise in pet theft have been worrying. Pet owners shouldn’t have to live in fear, and I am pleased this report acknowledges the unique distress caused by this crime.”
RSPCA chief executive Chris Sherwood said: “The new Pet Abduction Offence will acknowledge the seriousness of this crime and we hope this will encourage courts to hand out much tougher sentences to pet thieves. We’re also thrilled that the Government wants to simplify the microchipping database system and we believe this will help to tackle pet theft as well as other animal welfare issues and irresponsible pet ownership generally.”
Have you noticed an increase in dognapping in your local area?