Dog thefts: Woman shares her story after pet stolen
But owners have been warned not to take the law into their own hands or put their own safety at risk to protect their animals. Some desperate dog lovers have been carrying pepper sprays, strapping their pets to them and using galvanised steel leads to keep their beloved animals safe. The pandemic has seen the dog population shoot up from 9.5 million in 2019 to 12 million. The rise in demand has seen pets increasingly targeted by criminals gangs.
Doglost.co.uk, a service run by volunteers helping owners trace their pets when they go missing, has seen a 170 percent rise in thefts since lockdown started.
Speaking at a Pet Industry Federation event last week, MP Iain Duncan Smith suggested a return to dog licences could be a deterrent for thieves. Former police officer Sian Smith, who runs Millin Brook Luxury Dog Boarding in Pembrokeshire, says she has been alarmed at the lengths pet owners will go to.
She said: “I’ve seen people on social media talking about using pepper spray and identification spray which covers either the attacker or the pet in red dye.
“These sprays have a propellent in them. They come out at a certain force meaning they’re the same as pepper spray and police CS spray which classifies them as firearms.
“If you were to use these on someone, even to protect yourself and your pet, you could find yourself in court on a firearms offence.
“Many are sold as ‘UK legal’ but until a case goes to court and it’s tried, it is still a very grey area. People need to be careful.”
Rosanna Stewart says dog owners are constantly on high alert while walking their dogs now
Sian, 42, began putting advice on Facebook on how to keep dogs safe and what to do if a pet is stolen after being alarmed at a #MeetMyDog challenge on the site in January. People were posting photos of their beloved pets and details of where they live, making them targets for thieves.
She posted: “Although this may seem like a bit of fun, it would not take a would-be dog thief long to work out where you live.
“Given the alarming increase in dog thefts, be careful what you are posting on social media about your dogs.” She then added the hashtag #KeepYourDogsSafe. Her message has since been shared thousands of times, reaching pet owners all over the world.
Sian says she does not think owners should stop walking their dogs but they must be aware of their surroundings and on alert for people lingering. She urges owners to use an alarm or whistle.
“This is within the law and sounding an alarm may make the offender flee,” she says. “Failing that, it will give you a few seconds to run and people in the area will be aware something is happening.
Some dog lovers are using galvanised leads to keep their beloved animals safe
“Dog owners shouldn’t be afraid to walk their pets but they should vary routes and routines, walk in pairs in busy areas where possible and avoid isolated areas.
“Always carry a fully charged mobile phone but don’t be distracted by calls or texts – give your dog your full attention and if
they don’t have good recall, keep them on their lead.”
PC Heath Keogh, from the Metropolitan Police, said there had been 176 reports of dogs being stolen in the past six months. He said: “If you are going to post on social media, please do so with a crime reference number and report it to police.
“We would advise people to change the directions they walk dogs and keep them on a lead.
“Make sure they have a collar and ID tag, and that their microchip details are up to date.
“Don’t use pepper spray, take a loud whistle on walks. Or there are alarms that can be attached to your lead and wrist which go off if your lead is snatched.
“If you see something suspicious, report it to the police. We rely on the public to give us intelligence so make safer parks and safer community teams aware.”
Doglost has seen a 170 percent rise in dog thefts since lockdown started
Dog walkers and daycare centres are taking signs off vehicles to avoid being targeted by gangs.
Meanwhile, the Meg Heath Dog Leads website has sold out of theft deterrent leads made from PVC-coated galvanised steel rope.
At Bed & Bone Boarding, in Hastings, East Sussex, Rosanna Stewart, 45, has stepped up security and along with partner Kelly Lorenz, 49, they have started attaching leads to their belts.
Rosanna said: “We’ve heard of dog walkers in London having their vehicles stolen while collecting dogs. It’s terrifying.
“We have a blacked out vehicle with no signage and lockable crates, and we do all we can to make it impossible to get the dogs.
“Each dog has a lockable lead and we loop the end through our belt so they’re attached to us.
“We only use old-fashioned buckle collars and harnesses rather than quick release. When you’re walking, you’re constantly scanning for people. We never let anyone approach the dogs.”
In their home they have a camera doorbell with an outdoor security light to check on callers, 8ft fences, motion alert security cameras and no dog is left alone.
Rosanna also interviews new clients on Zoom and meets them in a public place before agreeing to care for their pet.
She said: “Our clients are understandably worried and ask about security, so we want to reassure them their pets are safe. We’re on high alert all the time.”
Justine Quirk, spokeswoman for doglost.co.uk, says owners even need to keep their dogs in sight in their own gardens and yards too.
She said: “Dogs are at most risk in your back garden so CCTV and motion-detecting lights, if people can afford them, are advised.
“Ensure your garden is secure and never leave your dog outside unsupervised.”