With the demand for dogs during the pandemic seeing an explosion in pet theft, owners need to be extra vigilant, writes Sarah Lee for 'My Countryside' magazine.

Is pet theft on the increase?
Dog theft is an increasingly prevalent and worrying issue for many, with reported incidents up 170 per cent since 2019. Since the demand for dogs skyrocketed this time last year as the country went into a nationwide lockdown – and has kept at a steady level ever since – it is clear that pet theft will continue to be a big problem for owners. DogLost has stated that almost 50 per cent of its missing dog reports relate specifically to working dogs, with the most commonly stolen gundogs being cocker and springer spaniels and Labradors.

What can you do to protect your dogs?
The brazenness of dog thieves only continues to grow, so we urge everyone to be vigilant, keeping a watchful eye on your dogs whether you are out or at home. When out, make sure you are switched on to what your surroundings are as well as who is around you, and do not leave your dog unattended. If you’re suspicious of someone, put your dog back on its lead.

When at home, reviewing your security is important. If your dog is kennelled outside, it is advised that you make sure they are as close to your home as possible and that you use alarmed padlocks or remote access CCTV, which allows you to regularly check on your dogs. If you have, or are planning on having a litter of puppies, please be extra vigilant. 

What should you do if your dog is stolen?
Swift action is a necessity – make sure you call 999 and get a crime reference number. You should also contact your local council dog warden and the RSPCA to alert them, should the dog be handed in.

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 as such when scanned.

Using social media to spread the word and letting people know what has happened 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 beware of hoaxers claiming to know where your dog is if you are offering a reward. Finally, keep the police up to date and always allow them to follow up any potential leads.

What is the Countryside Alliance doing?
Pet theft is driven by organised crime and is seen as a low-risk, high-reward offence. In recent years only one per cent of dog theft crimes have led to a prosecution. Under the Theft Act 1968, pets are classed as property, making a stolen Labrador equal to a stolen laptop. 

The Countryside Alliance has worked with organisations such as PetTheft UK, campaigning for a change in the law to make pet theft a specific offence, giving courts access to appropriate custodial sentences to act as a deterrent, provide punishment and protect the public.

In September 2021, it was announced that under new government plans aiming to crack down on the increasing number of reported pet thefts, a new criminal offence for pet abduction would be introduced. This new offence comes as a recommendation from the Government's Pet Theft Taskforce which launched in May 2021.

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