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Number of dog thefts double in Norfolk in two years

PUBLISHED: 07:10 01 September 2015 | UPDATED: 08:37 02 September 2015

Mad About Dogs and Garden Show at The Royal Norfolk Showground. Photo: Steve Adams

Mad About Dogs and Garden Show at The Royal Norfolk Showground. Photo: Steve Adams

Fears have been raised that thieves are targeting man's best friend, after figures revealed that dog thefts in Norfolk have almost doubled in two years.

Keep your dog safe

The RSPCA has issued a number of tips to keep your canine companion out of dog-nappers’ hands:

Don’t leave your dog outside a shop on his own, or in a car alone

Teach your dog a reliable recall for when you are out walking

Check your garden to make sure it is secure and, if you have a gate, then fit it with a lock

Neuter your pet, as this can reduce the likelihood of roaming

Make sure your dog is wearing a collar with an up-to-date ID tag. It is a legal requirement for a dog to have an ID tag with your name and address on it

Consider microchipping your dog

Keep recent photographs and make a note of any distinguishing features

The number of canine companions stolen around the county soared from 16 in 2012/13 to 37 in the following financial year and 29 in the 2014/15 period, according to figures released in a Freedom of Information request by the EDP.

It is a trend reflected at a national level, with dog thefts around the country rising steadily year on year.

While Norfolk police declined to comment on why the crimes were increasing, Colin Butcher, founder of The Pet Detectives Ltd, puts it down to a combination of factors.

The company investigates reports of animal theft around most of the country, liaising with police forces and animal welfare agencies.

Mr Butcher, a former detective, said the loss of local authority dog wardens often went hand-in-hand with an increase in dog thefts.

“Where we are seeing county councils and local councils disposing with the role of dog wardens we are seeing an increase in dog crime,” he said. “The dog warden holds down many different functions, not just the recovery of strays, and they seem to be the hub for intelligence on missing dogs.

“When you remove that service, many people only have a number to ring with a voicemail, or a promise of a call back, and often people don’t bother, so animals aren’t returned.”

As well as a void in communication for would-be thieves to capitalise on, this also leads to what Mr Butcher calls “thefts by finding”.

“Where this vital link of the warden is removed, no one knows who to go to. Dogs are kept for seven days by the council and then it becomes their property to dispose of and the finder often keeps it,” he said.

In Norfolk, the majority of district councils direct concerned pet owners to a general contact number or have opted to contract out dog warden services.

Stretched police resources also mean that not all thefts are thoroughly explored, Mr Butcher says.

“If you think that it is being considered that police won’t investigate all home burglaries, what chance do pet owners have of getting a dog theft looked into?

“It is not particularly about low sentencing for these crimes, but more that if criminals know they are very unlikely to be arrested there is no risk.”

In recent years, Mr Butcher says his team has noticed a move away from working breed thefts, with thieves – who often work in small groups travelling around the country – responding to increased demand for toy dogs popularised in the media. “It follows national trends,” he said. “Jessica Ennis-Hill has featured in an advert with a dachshund and now we are seeing much more of these. Years ago there wasn’t a single dachshund theft. It is the same with pugs, which often feature on TV and in films, including in the Men in Black films. They are lucrative thefts and they can make an awful amount of money very quickly.”

If caught, dog thieves can face a maximum fine of £20,000 and/or six months’ imprisonment. At present, the government has no plans to introduce separate offences of dog theft or dog kidnapping.

But although dog thefts have risen in Norfolk, it is not a trend mirrored across the region. Suffolk has seen a major drop since 2012, when it had 12, down to 11 in 2013, four in 2014 and seven so far in 2015.

In Cambridgeshire, figures have remained stable over the last few years, with 17 dogs stolen in 2012, 16 in 2013, 19 in 2014 and five this year up to June.

A spokesman for the RSPCA said that it was “heartbreaking” for families to lose pets that “are like members of their family” and said that if the worst did happen, pet owners should contact the police, put flyers on notice boards, register the animal with a company such as Dogslost or the national pets register, call local vets and talk to neighbours or people in the area.

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