'It's about time' - Dog owners welcome taskforce tackling pet thefts
- Credit: Dogs Trust
Norfolk dog owners have welcomed a new government taskforce which has pet thieves in its sights, following a significant rise in thefts during lockdown.
The pet theft taskforce, announced by Environment Secretary George Eustice, will look at the causes of pet thefts and how to tackle them.
Sales platforms have reported a considerable increase in puppy and kitten prices over the course of the past year as more people buy or adopt a pet.
In Norfolk in 2020 there were 30 crimes reported in which dogs had been stolen. In total 52 dogs were stolen and police were able to reunite 16 with their owners.
Matthew Cullum, a farmer from Forncett, just south of Norwich, lost his two Springer Spaniels, Bonnie and Tilly, after they were taken from outside his home on Wednesday, January 27.
He said “It's about time more was done to stop dog thefts.
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“I have still got hope that they will return at some point,” he said. “Whether they are local or not I don’t know, but there are stories where people do get their dogs back.
“It’s devastating but you have just got to try and get on with your life. I personally think it’s as bad as something happening to your immediate family - they are your family.
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“Something that needs to be done but also, I do believe it needs to be nipped in the bud from the start on the breeding side.
“You shouldn’t be paying thousands of pounds for a pup. That’s what is fuelling the industry, it needs to be capped."
Following the thefts, Mr Cullum said he then received calls from scammers pretending to have his dogs, demanding the cash reward and threatening to harm them if he did not comply.
He added: “There are no words. It's just horrendous.
“They obviously know there is a reward available, so they want to scam you but we went straight to the police. This is going on a lot, I'm not the only one.”
The taskforce will be made up of government officials from Defra, Home Office and Ministry of Justice as well as operational partners such as the police. It will also seek input from animal welfare groups and experts in relevant fields.
According to Dogs Trust, the price for five of the UK’s most sought-after breeds grew significantly during the first lockdown with the price of some breeds rising by as much as 89pc.
Owen Sharp, chief executive at Dogs Trust, which has a centre in Snetterton, said it welcomed the taskforce.
"Pet theft is the most hideous of crimes for anyone to experience," he said.
“The taskforce really needs to try to understand the scale of the problem and I suspect the issue is that it is not universally the same everywhere. But once we get to it, we need to find some meaningful action.
"We need to get to some answers as quickly as possible because this is a problem which exists today. I think it has to look at a number of factors and some of the causes of this.
“But also, the deterrents we have in place at the moment and frankly, the penalties and actions that can be taken through the legal system are not severe enough.”
During lockdown the price of popular breeds including Beagles, Chows, French and English Bulldogs, Pugs and Dachshunds have nearly doubled - with buyers paying thousands of pounds.
Mr Sharp believes this has driven the rise in thefts.
He said: “This is a product of that demand, prices going up. Dog prices where high anyway but it has gone up hugely particularly in lockdown and dog theft is just part of the problem.
“A big piece of work that we have been doing many years at dog's trust is to try and get the issue of puppy smuggling tackled and the same thing with puppy farming and poor breeding.
“It is all part of that same continuum and that is driven by the prices that we as dog owners are paying and those prices are going up because of perceived scarcity of dogs. People are prepared to pay more and more money.
“There is a point at which we as the general public are going to have to say 'no that’s too much'. Because we know that it’s going to start driving too much criminal behaviour."
Buying pets safely
Anyone looking to buy a pet can get tips and advice on the Petfished campaign website by searching ‘Get your pet safely’ or visiting getyourpetsafely.gov.uk.
The Petfished campaign calls for consumers to remain vigilant, always researching the seller before visiting, reporting suspicious adverts and crucially be prepared to walk away and report suspected cases of animal abuse to the RSCPA or, if witnesses, the police.
If anyone has any concerns about the welfare of dogs in any dog breeding establishment, they should report the matter to the relevant local authority who have powers to investigate.
Victims are being encouraged to report these crimes to the police so they can be investigated appropriately.
Information about these crimes can also be provided anonymously to Crimestoppers on telephone number: 0800 555 111 or by completing an online form, which can be found at: https://crimestoppers-uk.org/give-information/forms/give-information-anonymously