Dog Theft Surges in UK as COVID Drives Dog Prices Up

  • Just when you thought this wretched excuse of a year had hit rock bottom, we find out something like this.

The coronavirus pandemic is still going strong, and with a new wave of infections ripping through the world, people continue to be confined to their homes. For a lot of people – especially those living alone – are understandably starting to feel a bit lonely at this point.

This need for companionship has led to a worldwide surge in dog sales and adoptions. And that’s great news! Many pooches that had been sitting in kennels and stores for ages have found a loving home, thanks to the pandemic.

The high demand means dogs are in short supply, and as a result the price of dogs has also skyrocketed. And that has unfortunately brought out the worst in some people.

The UK in particular is struggling with a concerning epidemic, and we’re not talking about COVID-19 (though they have that too). The number of dognappings in the country is following an upward trend together with the number on dogs’ price tags.

“I’ve been doing this for 30 years now and it’s the worst ever year I’ve known,” Wayne May, a pet detective from the UK lost dogs charity DogLost, told the BBC.

“Due to lockdown, people are at home more and they’re looking for companion animals to take up their time. Sadly, the criminals capitalized on this,” he continued.

“Where are you taking me?”

Easy, Big Money

It really takes a special kind of a scumbag to steal someone’s beloved pet. But looking at the dog market, it’s no wonder that some unscrupulous characters have been swayed by the promise on easy money.

It’s hard to put exact numbers on how many dogs get sold. But shelters are reporting record numbers of adoptions, and companies making dog-keeping equipment are raking in the cash.

For example, the sales of doggie diapers have increased by more than 200% during 2020 when compared to the year before, reported USA Today. In total, that makes $24 million worth of diapers for leaky puppies.

Looking at such huge increase in demand, you might be less surprised by the surging number of dognappings. But just because you can sort of understand it, doesn’t make it any less reprehensible.

According to the BBC, about half of UK police forces have reported increasing number of dog theft in their areas. Northumbria Police – responsible for policing an area in the northeast of England – reported the largest increase.

Between January and July, dog thefts in their area went from 27 in 2019 to 67 this year. The second largest bump was in the area of Devon & Cornwall Police, who saw cases rise from 25 to 47.

The cops have seen smaller but still significant increases in other parts of the UK. The point is, though, that this is not an isolated incident, but a nationwide trend.

An Organized Effort

In fact, everything seems to imply that the dogs are not being stolen on a whim. There may be an entire organized dognapping industry operating in the UK.

“Organized crime groups are actively targeting addresses with working breeds tending to be those that are favored by criminals,” Sgt Brian Calver from Suffolk Police told The Independent.

May from DogLost concurs, saying that his organization believes a dognapping mafia exists.

“We believe there’s organized crime. There’s a small percentage that is opportunist crime, but we believe that these [dogs] are being stolen to order,” May told PBS.

“In some cases, we have had to buy the dogs back. People are paying £5,000 (roughly $6,800) to get their dogs back.”

The issue with buying the dogs back from criminals is that is just encourages dog theft. But if you’re a dog owner, you can definitely sympathize with the desire to get your pooch back.

Marked in Stone

Another sign pointing to organized crimes comes from Suffolk, a county in eastern England. There, the police have warned residents that criminals planning dog theft might be marking houses with white chalk.

According to a report by Tyla, the police issued a public warning after strange chalk marks started appearing on people’s houses and fences. The connecting factor seems to be that the residents own a dog that could be of value.

Diana Fordham, resident of the town of Leiston, told Tyla that her house was one of those the criminals had marked. Soon after the mark had appeared, she got a visit from a stranger.

The man showed up at Fordham’s door, asking about buying something. The conversation took a strange turn, though.

“Next thing he was asking about my dogs, how many we have, what breed, how much they are worth,” Fordham said.

“Then he sat at the front of my house taking pictures and on and off the phone, making calls for about 15 minutes. We found two white chalk marks on the back fence. I advise you all to check your fences.”

The Powerless Police

Unfortunately, there is little the police have been able to do so far, apart from issuing warnings. In addition to Suffolk, the North Wales Police (NWP) also urged caution from residents.

“We are warning the public about a number of recent dog thefts which appear to be occurring across Wales and our English borders,” the NWP said, according to Border Counties Advertizer.

“Criminals are targeting valuable dogs for selling on as there has been a market for them during lockdown. Be aware.”

In addition, the police have given a set of advice to concerned dog owners. North Yorkshire Police, for example, encourages owners to microchip their dogs.

Additionally, they recommend never letting the dog run around the yard – or anywhere in public, for that matter – unsupervised. They also say that it might be smart to make sure your dog is well behaved in order to not draw retribution from disgruntled neighbors.

The situation has inspired UK citizens to launch a petition for the Parliament to make pet theft a specific crime with harsher punishments.

Here’s hoping that it will help.

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