Spate of dog thefts in Suffolk after coronavirus lockdown leads to rise in demand and prices
In June, Anita Jenner’s seven-year-old cocker spaniel, Penny, vanished without a trace.
She had been outside playing in a pen enclosure at Jeagor Farm, in Holywell Row near Mildenhall, with Anita’s two other dogs - a 14-year-old labradoodle, Noodle, and a seven-year-old poodle called Steve - when someone unlocked the gate and snatched her.
“Noodle was too old and the other was a castrated male poodle so they wouldn’t have wanted him,” said Anita who, in her 20 years of being a dog owner, said this was the first time she had been targeted.
“They just took our cocker spaniel who was seven because she’s the only one that would be of any value.”
The first lockdown in March last year saw prices of puppies rocket as Brits took advantage of the time and money freed up by working and learning at home.
Animal lovers across the country finally had the time to train, care for and cuddle up on the couch with a new pet, and that they did.
But it wasn’t all as fluffy and cute as it sounds.
In the weeks and months to follow, the nature of dog-napping changed from being an opportunistic crime to an organised one.
Prices of the most desirable dog breeds rose to what the Dogs Trust described as an ‘all-time high’.
Between March and October, chow chows more than doubled in value. The price of a pug jumped from £684 to £1,220. And those of dachshunds and French bulldogs rose by more than 70 per cent.
And criminals were cashing in on the lucrative trade.
In Suffolk, according to the Sunday Times, more dog thefts were reported in the first seven months of 2020 than in the whole of the previous year.
The county’s RSPCA officers this week urged pet owners to be vigilant and ask for identification after they received reports of people posing as workers for the charity in order to gain access to dogs in Haverhill.
It's awful not knowing what has happened to them - Anita Jenner
“They’re definitely going for the expensive breeds,” said Anita, who still trawls Facebook and dog-selling sites in the hope that one day she’ll happen upon her lovable hound.
“There just seems to be so many going missing and I don’t understand what’s actually happening to them.
“It is awful not knowing what has happened to them; not knowing if she’s being looked after or if she has been dumped somewhere. It’s not a nice feeling.”
And while dog owners are left to wait for, worry and wonder about their lost pets, those who stole them face little to no punishment.
Under the Theft Act of 1968, animals are regarded as objects akin to a stolen phone and in rare cases where offenders are caught and prosecuted, figures show only one per cent of all reported dog thefts in 2019, those convicted are more likely to be given community service, a caution or a fine, rather than a prison term.
A dog owner from near Newmarket, who knows all too well the pain of losing a pet, has joined the country-wide call for tougher sentencing for pet theft.
They just grab anything they can get their hands on and then discard anything they don't want - Dog owner
The woman, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals, has lost 10 adult dogs and 12 puppies to thieves in the past year.
The most recent attack saw her six cocker spaniels, the eldest of which was 14 years old, cut from their kennels and taken.
“They just grab anything they can get their hands on and then discard anything they don’t want. At the moment it’s a low risk crime for a high rate return and it’s taking over from drug dealing because there is so much money involved,” she said.
“On the rare occasion when someone is caught they get a £250 fine for taking a dog that could end up breeding on a puppy farm and making thousands of pounds.”
She added that it is the dog owners who are left paying the price; wracked with guilt for how it managed to happen and plagued by the fear of it happening again.
“The thieves who took my dogs cut through three layers of wire to get to the kennels. Now they are empty. I just can’t go there, it’s like a morgue and it just upsets me too much,” she said.
“People should remember that these dogs are members of our families.
“To us they are priceless and when they are stolen you end up blaming yourself when it is not your fault.”
Dogs Trust have outlined the basic steps owners can take to protect pets from being stolen; it advises to keep buildings and gardens secure, keep dogs in sight and trained to return, and know what steps to take if a pet does go missing.
Reporting by Rhoda Morrison, Alison Hayes & Robbie Nichols