'Dognapping' cases double as stolen pet market booms

For many victims, the first they know of becoming part of one of Britain's growing crime trends is an anonymous call or text message offering help in finding their missing cat or dog.

Within hours, the animal, whose missing status has often been advertised on neighbourhood lampposts with the offer of a reward for its return, is found and a rendezvous set up to exchange the pet for cash.

According to research published yesterday, this a scenario played out with increasing frequency across Britain as 520 cats and dogs go missing every day, with dozens from that figure feared stolen.

The Missing Pets Bureau (MPB), which helps to trace missing or stolen animals, said it had seen cases of dog theft double in the past 12 months, with an accompanying increase in ransom demands and evidence of stolen pedigree pets being sold on.

"Dognapping" rose by 141 per cent last year to 300 cases a year, according to the MPB. Another charity, DogLost, estimates that about 80 per cent of the 1,300 cases it deals with involve suspicious circumstances.

The MPB, which only treats a missing animal as stolen if it has been registered by police, said it was convinced that there is now a market based on the theft of domestic pets. In one recent case, investigators found a private "dog auction" was being held in Essex to sell pets, many of them suspected to have been stolen.

Simon Worsfold, the director of the MPB, said: "The problem has grown from only a few hundred cases a year to several hundred every week. Stealing a pet is seen as a way of making easy money. When the animal is a pedigree, more often than not it will never be seen again by the owner because it is sold on.

"But there is also a growing problem with dogs being stolen by people who then return when the owner puts up a reward poster and say they simply found the dog or bought it from someone else."

The claimed rise in dog theft was highlighted last week when a dog breeder and former Crufts judge paid £2,000 to a member of the traveller community after three pedigree puppies - a Japanese chin and two griffon bruxellois - were stolen from her home in Kingsclere, Hampshire. Tessa Gaines, 72, said she had to negotiate a deal through intermediaries after the dogs were traced to a travellers' site close to her home.

Campaigners say the practice is not restricted to the traveller community, with recent cases including a drug addict who stole a labrador in London to fund his next fix.

Public perception that pet theft is a growing problem is reinforced by a separate study showing nearly one million Britons who have lost a cat or dog in the last five years believe it was stolen.

A survey for Sainsbury's Bank found that 966,000 people had a pet go missing between 2000 and 2005. Nearly half of that number never saw their animals again.

However, animal welfare campaigners warned that the scale of the dognapping industry may have been overstated.

A spokeswoman for the RSPCA said: "There have certainly been a number of genuine cases of dog theft but we haven't seen any evidence that it is a widespread problem."

Victoria Crossley, 59, and 'Baby': 'Someone said they knew a man who stole dogs'

Victoria Crossley feared that she would not see her pug dog again until she received a phone call 11 days after her pet had been stolen from her garden.

The florist had been working in her home near Norwich last June when she noticed that one of her two pugs had stopped barking in her garden. She distributed posters in her neighbourhood offering a reward of £1,000 for the dog's return.

Mrs Crossley, 59, said: "Among the places I left posters was a travellers' site, where someone told me they knew a man who went around stealing dogs and selling them on for a profit.

"I had a call from a man who said he had bought a dog at a horse fair and he thought it might be mine. I pleaded with him to meet me. I was so delighted to see my dog that I told the friend with me to hand the money over. The man was absolutely charming but I have no doubt that he was somehow involved in the theft."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower