by Mo Metcalf Fisher

The Covid- 19 lockdown is leading to a surge in demand for puppies, with wider consequences the Countryside Alliance has warned.

Dog thefts are reportedly increasing & fraudsters are also using the buying frenzy to line their pockets by selling non-existent puppies to desperate buyers.

The comments from the rural campaigning group’s Chief Executive, Tim Bonner, come after a series of reports from around the country indicate popular working dog breeds are being targeted.

According to Action Fraud, people looking to buy pets have been scammed out of more than £280,000 over the past two months. The group warn criminals are posting fake online ads, for pets such as kittens and puppies and will ask victims to put down a deposit for the pet to secure the purchase of an animal which doesn’t exist.

Figures obtained under Freedom of Information laws by the Pet Insurance division at Direct Line have revealed that an average of six dogs are stolen per day in England and Wales. Of these figures, the number of cocker spaniels stolen has doubled, while lurchers have trebled and Yorkshire terriers have quadrupled.

Police forces in London, West Yorkshire and Kent have reported the highest number of thefts. Some 20% of the 2,026 dogs stolen last year were successfully tracked and returned to their owners.

On Thursday May 14th, three English spaniels were stolen from an address in Brightling, East Sussex.

14 dogs and puppies were stolen from a breeder in Upwell, Cambridgeshire. While 3 have now been found and safely returned, 11 remain missing. Of the breeds stolen were six cocker spaniel adult girls: one lemon roam cocker spaniel adult boy. Two cocker spaniel puppies  and two cocker poo puppies: two apricot/red girls.

Two cocker spaniels were also stolen from a kennel in Alderton Suffolk overnight between 25- 26th May 2020.

Speaking to members of the group, Mr. Bonner said: “ The COVID crisis is, of course, having all sorts of unpredictable effects and one of them is a surge in demand for puppies. Lockdown Britain seems to have created a desire for canine companionship which can only be satisfied by the immediate purchase of a dog. The current rise in demand shows how true that is and it will have consequences, in fact, it already is. Dog thefts are reportedly increasing with a focus on the current fashionable breeds which include cocker spaniels and Labradors, presumably stolen to order in the knowledge of easy resale. Fraudsters are also using the buying frenzy to line their pockets by selling non-existent puppies to desperate buyers.

In the longer term this phenomenon will have other impacts. It will surely see a rise in unlicensed puppy farming which is an activity that legislators have been struggling to control in England and Wales, and the import of puppies from farms in Eastern Europe and Ireland. With puppies from some fashionable breeds being sold for £2000 or more, the financial incentives for breeding repeatedly from bitches and keeping large numbers of them in unsuitable conditions are considerable.

The Countryside Alliance has also expressed concern over the very real possibility of impulse purchases being made by those in lockdown who are using the extra time at home to fulfil, often life- long, wishes to purchase working breed puppies.

Mr. Bonner said: “ It is inevitable that many of the lockdown puppies will become more than a handful for their new owners, especially when the real world of work and competing interests returns. A cocker spaniel puppy may be the sweetest thing in the world at eight weeks old, but as anyone who has ever owned one will attest, at eight months they can resemble a baby-faced psychopath with an obsessive hunting gene. Whilst the welfare of all dogs is important, there is something especially worrying about the thought of working breeds being bought for their looks and ending up in unsuitable homes where their need for exercise and stimulation might not be met. A dog is for life, not just for lockdown.”

The Alliance has re-issued its guidance in relation to dog theft prevention:

When you are out and about

Never leave your dog unattended

    If you are in the pub or in a public area don’t boast about your dog. You never know who is listening...

    If you have to keep your dog in the car for any period of time, ensure the car is locked.

    Use tinted windows to obscure the view through the rear windows of your vehcile to protect your dogs if they're left in the car whilst you're working.

Review your security at home

    If your dog lives indoors, take the usual principles to ensure safety.

    If kennelled, build your kennel as close to your home as possible.

    Use alarmed padlocks or passive infrared sensors that send text messages to your mobile phone if tampered with.

    Install remote access CCTV, which allows you to regularly check on your dogs from your mobile phone, and security lighting on all outbuildings and kennels.

Never leave ladders or tools around that can be used by thieves to gain entry

    Sign up to local and regional neighbourhood watch programmes so you are aware of other local thefts in the area. Make sure to note down the registration numbers of any suspicious looking vehicles.

If you're having a litter of puppies

    Be extra vigilant.

    Don’t put signs by the roadside to indicate you have puppies for sale.

    If potential buyers come to see your puppies make sure you have someone with you and show them the puppies one by one.

If your dog is stolen

    All dogs must now, by law, be microchipped, so ensure your details are up to date, report it to Petlog and register the dog's microchip as missing so it will show up when scanned.

    Swift action is a necessity – make sure you call 999 and get a crime reference number. Also contact your Local Council, Dogwarden and RSPCA to alert them should the dog be handed in.

    Talk to neighbours and check with your local community – postal workers, milk men, shop keepers etc.

    Take photos of your dogs from several angles and keep them with your dogs’ documents, making sure to document any specific markings or features.

    Use social media to spread the word and let people know what has happened, this can make the dog 'too hot to handle', increasing the chance of it being returned to you. Forums and Facebook groups are good places to post messages, but be aware of hoaxers claiming to know where your dog is if you provide money.

    Keep the police up to date and always allow them to follow up any potential leads.

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