Every year, thousands of British people go through the horror of having their family pet taken from them by thieves, it has been revealed.
Shocking figures show that the number of dogs reported stolen in the UK has risen for the fourth year in a row, and now stands at five every day.
The number of dogs returned to their owners after they have gone missing has also fallen year on year. Only one in five of the dogs are ever returned.
It is believed that dogs are stolen to be sold on, and that breeds are targeted due to their popularity.
However, stolen dogs in the past have been known to end up being used for illegal breeding and even in dog fights.
Figures uncovered by a Freedom of Information request by Direct Line Pet Insurance found that 1,959 dogs were reported stolen in the UK in 2018 - an increase of 30 per cent since 2014.
Which dogs are targeted?
The Staffordshire Bull Terrier was the most targeted breed by criminals in 2018, with 88 reported thefts over the year. Crossbreeds remain the second most popular for dognappers.
There were 53 reported cases of stolen cross breeds in 2018, likely to be due to the popularity of ‘designer’ dog breeds like Labradoodles and Puggles.
Other popular breeds commonly taken by the thieves include Chihuahuas, French Bulldogs, Jack Russell Terriers and Pugs.
And Direct Line has speculated that flat faced dog breeds like Pugs and French Bulldogs have become increasingly popular due to the number of celebrities who own them.
French Bulldog owners include Hugh Jackman, Reese Witherspoon and David Beckham while owners of Pugs include Gerard Butler, Hugh Laurie and Paris Hilton.
Eva Sandstra-Bennett, Head of Pet Insurance at Direct Line, said: “It is heart-breaking to see there are still so many dogs stolen each year and the numbers are continuing to rise.
“Dogs are a huge part of the family, so it causes real distress and trauma when they are stolen. Unfortunately, the popularity of designer dog breeds and flat faced dogs means they are highly desirable for thieves, as they are easily identifiable and can be sold on for thousands of pounds.
“Owners of these breeds should be particularly vigilant and aware of situations that make it easier for thieves. This can include leaving them locked in cars, tied up outside a shop or allowing them off the lead out of sight.”
How to spot if your dog is targeted
Dogs have been reported stolen from homes, cars and even when they have been left outside of shops.
If a dog is off-leash, thieves can use food to lure dogs towards bushes before they steal them, or can simply clip a lead to the collar and run off.
Gangs have also been known to mark out targeted homes with dogs they want using chalk markings on nearby curbs or the houses themselves.
These markings have been reported to be letters and symbols, do dog owners should keep a close eye on their properties and look out for any unusual marks.
The highest number of dogs stolen was in London, with the Metropolitan police reporting 304 thefts in 2018. Other areas with high rates of dog theft in 2018 were West Yorkshire with 179 and Greater Manchester with 161.
The Police Force which has reported the greatest increase in reports of stolen dogs is Humberside Police, which recorded 92 more dogs stolen in 2018 than 2017.
Number of dogs safely returned is falling
In 2018, just 331 cases (17 per cent) resulted in the dog’s safe return to its owner, which is 25 per cent fewer than in 2017 when 439 dogs were returned (23 per cent).
Eva Sandstra-Bennett, Head of Pet Insurance at Direct Line, added: “Owners are increasingly unlikely to be reunited with their beloved pet.
“If the worst does happen and a dog is stolen, owners should report it to the police immediately and start spreading the word among their local community.
"Online communities are also vital, as is sharing photos of the pet on social media.
"Owners should also ensure that their pet is microchipped, and the contact details are up to date so if they are taken to a vet’s surgery, the vet will have the right ownership details.”
What to do if your dog is stolen
Firstly, check the local area and your dog’s favourite spots as your dog may have wandered off
Make your dog ‘too hot to handle’ by sharing on social media, putting up posters in the local area and informing local media – include pictures and any distinctive marks in any appeals, and ask others to spread the word
There are some specific sites set up to help find lost and stolen dogs, like doglost.co.uk
Report your dog as stolen to the police and provide them with as much detail as possible
Report your dog as stolen to local pet related services like vets, animal shelters, pet shops, dog wardens and the council. Provide photos, a physical description and the dogs microchip number
Report your dog to the microchip database