Pro­tect your pet: Is your dog in dan­ger of be­ing kid­napped?

As the num­ber of cases in the UK soars, leav­ing own­ers feel­ing help­less and heart­bro­ken, best in­ves­ti­gates…

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Kirstie Mitchell-Dick­in­son will never for­get the day her beloved dog was stolen. ‘We all adored Oak­ley. Even now, nine months on, we’re still dev­as­tated,’ she says, sadly. ‘It’s hard enough for me and my hus­band, Sam, but our two lit­tle girls, Hollie and Aaliyah, just can’t un­der­stand it.’

Oak­ley, a two-year-old pa­pil­lon, es­caped from their house in Fare­ham, Hamp­shire, when a man de­liv­er­ing meals-on-wheels for Sam’s grand­fa­ther left the front door open by ac­ci­dent on 31 Jan­uary. By the time he had put down the food and fol­lowed him out­side, he saw Oak­ley be­ing picked up by a cou­ple, then given to a man in a truck, who drove off.

‘The cou­ple said that the driver had told them the dog was his mum’s, and they’d been out look­ing for him,’ said Kirstie. ‘They had no rea­son to dis­be­lieve him, so they handed Oak­ley over to them.’

De­spite in­form­ing the po­lice, who traced the truck

to a trav­ellers’ site, Oak­ley wasn’t found there and the in­ves­ti­ga­tion was dropped, leav­ing the fam­ily in a hor­ri­ble state of limbo.

‘Oak­ley was far more than just a pet,’ says Kirstie. ‘He was a mem­ber of our fam­ily – even now, the girls will ask if he’s OK and if he’s be­ing looked af­ter. We have no idea what to tell them.’

The fam­ily put up posters and con­tacted Dog Lost, the UK’s largest lost-and-found dog ser­vice, but all to no avail.

The or­gan­i­sa­tion claims that dog theft has in­creased by 24 per cent over the last three years, and that more than 60 an­i­mals are snatched ev­ery week in Eng­land and Wales.

Thefts of cocker spaniels soared af­ter Kate and Wil­liam bought their pet, Lupo, in Jan­uary 2012, with more than 75 be­ing stolen ev­ery week in the fol­low­ing year.

Other breeds that are pop­u­lar with dog­nap­pers in­clude Pomera­ni­ans, as pedi­gree spec­i­mens cost over £1,000, plus the Mal­tese, which is small and easy to whisk away, and the French bull­dog – so pop­u­lar that sup­ply isn’t keep­ing up with de­mand.

From the data, it seems as though hounds aren’t safe any­where. Statis­tics show that 52 per cent of dogs stolen are taken from gar­dens and 20 per cent from homes, while 16 per cent are taken while be­ing walked, seven per cent while tied up out­side shops, and five per cent from cars.

Dog own­ers face the prob­lem that, un­der the 1968 Theft Act, dogs are clas­si­fied as a pos­ses­sion. Dis­ap­pear­ances are of­ten recorded as ‘theft of goods’, and it’s hard to ob­tain a crime num­ber un­less there is actual ev­i­dence of theft, such as CCTV footage or actual signs of a break-in.

The Stolen and Miss­ing Pets Al­liance was un­suc­cess­ful in get­ting the law changed, but au­thor­i­ties are slowly wak­ing up to the dev­as­ta­tion that this crime is caus­ing.

It was agreed that there should be greater em­pha­sis on the im­pact of the theft on the vic­tim, and these new guide­lines were im­ple­mented in Fe­bru­ary 2016.

Sadly, al­most 50 per cent of own­ers never see their stolen dogs again – a shock­ing statis­tic be­cause, for most dog own­ers, in­clud­ing Charlotte Wid­mark, their pet is far more than just a pos­ses­sion.

Charlotte, 58, a for­mer bar­ris­ter, suf­fers from mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis and was given Leon, a Ger­man spitz, as an as­sis­tance dog two years ago.

‘I adored him,’ she says. ‘From the start, he made a huge dif­fer­ence to my life. If he sensed I was go­ing to faint, he’d stand in front of me to make me sit down. If I dropped any­thing while I was in my wheel­chair, he’d jump down and pick it up.’

But, on 14 Fe­bru­ary this year, Charlotte left Leon tied up out­side a shop in the early hours of the morn­ing while she nipped in­side to buy a pint of milk. When she came back out, he was gone.

‘I was hys­ter­i­cal,’ re­calls Charlotte. ‘I called the po­lice and, know­ing these things aren’t al­ways taken se­ri­ously, I im­pressed upon them im­me­di­ately how thor­oughly I wanted this in­ves­ti­gated. Even then, I knew the chances of get­ting him back were slim.’

Thank­fully, the cul­prit, Dou­glas Cawsey, was caught on CCTV footage, and po­lice were able to re­turn Leon to Charlotte within six days.

‘I couldn’t be­lieve it when they opened the car door and he jumped out,’ says Charlotte. ‘I hadn’t been able to sleep or eat. The pain was un­bear­able, so the re­lief was in­cred­i­ble.’

Cawsey was sen­tenced to eight weeks in prison and fined £315.

It’s left both Charlotte and Leon feel­ing wary. When she takes him out for a walk, she is con­stantly look­ing over her shoul­der, while Leon re­fuses to leave her side.

But Charlotte is one of the lucky ones. Many peo­ple never re­cover their dogs.

‘ We’ll never give up hope of find­ing Oak­ley, but, the longer it goes on, the harder it be­comes,’ says Kirstie. ‘How peo­ple can in­flict this suf­fer­ing on oth­ers is be­yond me.’

It’s a fact – al­most 50 per cent of own­ers will never see their dog again

Thefts of cocker spaniels shot up af­ter the young roy­als bought Lupo for their son, Prince Ge­orge

Po­lice re­unite Charlotte with her pet, Leon Oak­ley the pa­pil­lon hasn’t been found Kirstie and hus­band Sam still miss their stolen pooch Charlotte is one of the lucky ones

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