'Please releash me' plea for Engelbert's lost dog

Engelbert Humperdinck, the Indian-born crooner with 150 million record sales to his exotic name, had telephoned to say his beloved puppy was missing - and he suspected foul play.

The six-month-old German shepherd called Charnie escaped from the singer's home near Leicester on Monday afternoon, triggering a hunt led by the heartbroken singer. Then came reports of dog-napping after a neighbouring farmer claimed to have spotted someone trying to catch a dog matching Charnie's description - with a fluffy black coat and distinctive floppy ears.

The local press were promptly recruited to aid in the search. "Please re-leash me", the Leicester Mercury appealed in a reference to one of the star's biggest hits. "It's absolutely heartbreaking" said Humperdinck. "My wife, Patricia, is really distraught. It's such a shame, Charnie is a beautiful dog, getting quite tall, and she is really playful."

The singer said Charnie escaped from the family home after a gate was left unlocked. As soon as he realised the dog was gone, Humperdinck, 69, searched for her until midnight and was out again at 6am the following day. "I was looking for her everywhere," he said "I was blowing a dog whistle, which she responds to, and she did not come back."

When she disappeared, Charnie was wearing a collar with brass animal figures on it. Humperdinck said that he had been planning to fit her with a proper name-tag and even have a microchip inserted with all the essential details in case she got lost - or taken hostage.

"We were just about to have the radio chip put in her ear and a name collar put on because she was getting more adventurous. It's become apparent that she must have been picked up by someone."

Humperdinck has appealed for anyone who saw Charnie, or even her possible abductors, to come forward. Regulars at his local pub, the Old Greyhound in Great Glen, have joined in the search and have posted "missing" notices.

"It's really sad," said the licensee, Christine Clark, "We are doing as much as we can to help and we really hope that Charnie is found quickly. Both Engelbert and Patricia will be really upset. It's such a shame."

The disappearance of Charnie follows reports that dog theft is one of Britain's fastest-growing crimes, with dozens of new cases being reported each week. A large number involve dog-napping, with hundreds and sometimes thousands of pounds being demanded for the return of a much-loved family pet.

According to DogLost, one of several groups that havebeen set up to help reunite people with their dogs, the situation is in danger of spiralling out of control. Some of the thefts are opportunistic - dogs snatched from gardens, or gathered up after straying - while others are organised raids on pedigree breeders, particularly in country areas

But the RSPCA urged Humperdinck not to panic.

An RSPCA spokeswoman said: "The best thing to do is to contact ourselves and the police if the dog is believed to have been stolen - it's still early days. As it is a young puppy it may well have just wandered away and got confused." Humper- dinck, whose real name is Arnold Dorsey, had his glory years in the Sixties and Seventies. His version of the country song "Release Me" topped the charts in 1967. His lavish sideburns and flamboyant wardrobe appealed to his devoted female audience.

'Dognapping' on the rise

* Stolen lurcher pups are said to sell for about £80, while a Crufts champion bitch stolen last year was said to have a value of £50,000.

* Two teenagers who had allegedly demanded £3,000 for the return of a dog are awaiting trial.

* DogLost, which helps reunite people with their dogs, says about 80 per cent of the 1,300 cases they have dealt with involve "suspicious circumstances".

* About 10 per cent of those have been asked for some kind of ransom or reward before the dog is returned.

* The owner of a seven-month-old Rhodesian ridgeback recently paid £500 for its safe return.

* Owners can insure against theft of their pets, from £7 a month.

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