Spike in dog thefts as criminals dig out microchips and cut leads with scissors

Demand for puppies has boomed during lockdown – but that in turn has caused a stark increase in the number of dogs stolen by criminals.

One of biggest dog thefts recorded yet is that discovered by Tony Cronin, 63, who found a total of 70 dogs when his own had gone missing on January 22.

Mr Cronin recollected how he decided to take matters in his own hands when his beloved pets, which included five spaniels and two litters of puppies, vanished.

He received a tip-off on their whereabouts and once he got to the location – a site in rural Carmarthenshire – he started “crying buckets” when he saw one of his dogs running towards him. But she wasn’t alone, WalesOnline reports.

“A huge group of dogs came up to greet us,” he said.

“There were Westies, Labradors, Pugs, everything just running at us barking like mad. Right in the middle of the group running towards us was one of my own dogs. Her tail was right down between her legs because she was frightened.

“She was quite timid until I called her and as soon as I started calling her she ran out and jumped in my arms and that was it then. It was very well hidden which is why they used it and as we were going up the track.”

Tony called the police, who reported to the scene and estimated the value of all the dogs was around £40,000.

The force says 22 dogs have since been returned to their lawful owners and 46 remain in kennels. Two people have been arrested and are currently on police bail as investigations continue.

This find is one of a large number of cases of suspected dog thefts hitting the headlines and social media sites in a trend that has left dog owners across the country fearing whether they and their pet are next.

As the demand for dogs in lockdown rises, the cost of puppies has more than doubled over the last year. The increased interest in puppies has seen a rise in dog thefts as criminals seize the opportunity to make some extra cash.

The force says 22 dogs have since been returned to their lawful owners and 46 remain in kennels. Two people have been arrested and are currently on police bail as investigations continue.

This find is one of a large number of cases of suspected dog thefts hitting the headlines and social media sites in a trend that has left dog owners across the country fearing whether they and their pet are next.

As the demand for dogs in lockdown rises, the cost of puppies has more than doubled over the last year. The increased interest in puppies has seen a rise in dog thefts as criminals seize the opportunity to make some extra cash.

According to missing pets website Dogs Lost there has been a 170% increase in the number of dogs stolen across the UK since the start of the pandemic.

Recently in Wales, we have seen everything from thieves cutting leads with scissors to try and take a family pet, to fake RSPCA workers asking owners to hand over their dogs.

And in January almost 80 dogs were recovered in police raids in Carmarthenshire and Briton Ferry, with a high number of those animals reported as stolen.

For many owners, their pets are their lifeline, offering them company and support. It has left many deeply upset and worried about what their animal might be enduring.

The Wood family from Port Talbot were among the first victims to speak out about their experience. Heartbroken 36-year-old Sarah Wood told WalesOnline that six of their beloved dogs had been taken from outbuildings on December 30.

Speaking at the time, she said her husband, Richard, and eight-year-old son, Rhodri, were extremely worried about their pets, a mix of spaniels and terriers, and wanted them home where they belong.

Since then, the family have been reunited with two of their dogs, a springer spaniel and a black female Patterdale terrier.

But despite being overjoyed to see them again, Sarah said it had been bittersweet. Not only were four of their dogs still missing, but their Springer spaniel was found badly injured, unwell and terrified.

She said: “We had a phone call from a local vet on January 27 saying a member of the public had found her. We were told that someone had tried to remove her microchip but they failed because it was lodged. The microchip was still working and in place which is how they found us.

“She had a deep wound and it was absolutely horrific. It was an old wound and looked to have been there for a long time. It was infected and she needed to be given antibiotics.

“We were told she had escaped from the Briton Ferry site but she was found three miles from our home, she was trying to find her way home.

“Two weeks later, Dogs Lost got in touch with us after they thought they had found one of our Patterdales. We went up there and it was confirmed it was her. She was found in Pyle. She wasn’t injured but she was in season when she shouldn’t be.”

Mrs Wood said it has had a huge impact on the family as well as their dogs.

“My family’s mental health has been severely affected by this. Today I am really low, I keep crying and I can’t sleep. Our animals are like children to us, they are part of our family,” she said.

“Since she has come home my Springer spaniel has been terrified of men. She was never like this before. She’s fine with me and my son but if my husband or my father go anywhere near her she cowers and gets full body shakes as though she wants the ground to swallow her up. We’re trying to approach her gradually and on her terms.

“My son was too scared to see her injury so we keep it covered in a coat. Even though what has happened has been awful, we have been told that only a small minority of the dogs found had injuries as bad as our springer spaniel.”

But for some victims of suspected dog thefts, worries continue to grow as the days roll by with no news whatsoever pointing to their pets’ whereabouts.

Sara Howells-Davies from Margam said she is losing hope of ever seeing her puppy again after he vanished without a trace on Thursday, January 21.

She believes her seven-month-old Pekingese puppy, Vinnie, was stolen in the early hours of that morning from an enclosed area in their back garden.

The 43-year-old said: “I woke up at 5.30am to hear my old dog barking his head off. It was the third night in a row he’d woken me which isn’t like him.

“I went and checked on him and the others and they were fine so I went into the living room to see if I could get another 30 minutes sleep. He didn’t relent so at 6.25am I opened the back door and let them out – I didn’t see anything [unusual]. The weather was horrendous and the wind was howling so I put his barking down to that.

“At 7.15am the rain started. I checked to make sure they were all in and realised Vinnie wasn’t there. I went outside and scanned the fully enclosed area but there was no sign of him.”

Ms Howells-Davies said there was no way Vinnie could have escaped through the six-foot fencing around the enclosed area.

She believes someone managed to get through one of her gates and was able to grab Vinnie.

“He doesn’t like running and he’s quite slow. He’s only a puppy and a small dog so he doesn’t have that protective instinct that other dogs have, which is why we think he was targeted,” she said.

“Now the dogs don’t go outside without one of us. All of us are scared to go out when it’s dark and if we do, we carry spray. We have a security camera outside and inside. We take our phones with us everywhere we go. Mentally it’s debilitating, we live in constant fear.

“Vinnie is on our minds every second of the day. Vinnie isn’t just a dog to us, none of them are. They are what brings us happiness.”

What the police and RSPCA say

Because of the unprecedented situation Dyfed-Powys Police has set up an investigation team working under Operation Rhinestone to target the increase in dog thefts in the force area, which reflects a rise nationally.

“As part of that the we released an e-fit on the weekend, which resulted in a number of calls, emails and online form submissions, which continue to be investigated,” a spokesman for the force said.

“The total number of dogs recovered from the Carmarthenshire address alone was 68, with 22 of them returned to their lawful owners. 46 remain in kennels at this time – enquiries continue to identify lawful ownership.

“The two people arrested by Dyfed-Powys Police so far are on police bail, with a further two having attended voluntary interviews. Enquiries are ongoing.”

Supt Robyn Mason from Dyfed-Powys Police added the situation had been “concerning”.

He said: “We’ve seen an increase over the last 12 months for reasons such as the pandemic. People are wanting more pets and dogs. There has been an increase in demand, there has been an increase in prices and obviously criminality.

“People see it as an opportunity for making money and taking advantage of the situation.”

RSPCA Cymru asks everyone who owns a dog to remain extremely vigilant at this worrying time.

A spokesman for the charity said: “It’s unclear exactly why this is happening – and we know people may target dogs for many different reasons.

“However, we have seen a huge interest in people acquiring pets during the lockdowns and ongoing Covid-19 restrictions, so it seems very possible that thieves are attaching large value to dogs and other pets – which highlights the importance of owners being vigilant at this time.

“While it is important dog owners don’t panic, owners should be careful and know what steps they can take to reduce the likelihood of their dog falling victim to thieves.

“It’s important people train their dogs to reliably come back when called, and never let them off the lead if you’re not sure they’ll come back to you. If in doubt, use a long-line lead, especially if you’re in an unfamiliar area where your dog may get lost more easily.

“During the ongoing lockdown and Covid-19 related restrictions in Wales, we are also urging dogs to be kept on leads when walked in public to help ensure social distancing. This will help avoid owners unnecessarily coming into contact with one another should a pet need to be retrieved.

“The best way of making sure you can be reunited with your dog if he or she becomes lost or stolen is to have the dog microchipped. It’s now a legal requirement to have your dog microchipped in Wales – and can make such a huge difference.

“When they’re in a public place, every dog must also – by law – wear a collar with the name and address of their owner engraved on it, or on a plate or tag attached to it.”