Dogs Trust is urging people to microchip their animal companions and keep that information up to date as 'it is no wonder criminals are taking advantage' of lockdown given the high demand for dogs and increase in prices.
The charity said that many dogs are taken from homes and gardens every year so it should be a priority for owners to make sure these are secure - and a dog shouldn't be left on their own in the garden.
It is also imperative that a pooch is trained to come back to you however distracted they might be, but that they should never be left unattended when out and always kept in sight.
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Jennifer White, the Senior Media Officer for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) added that thieves know that 'purebred' and 'designer' dogs sell for high sums and that they 'don't give a damn' about the emotional bonds between pooches and their guardians.
She said that as 'dognapping is an alarming, growing epidemic', it is imperative to contact the police as well as local animal shelters and veterinarians immediately if a dog is stolen - along putting up posters and involving the media.
Jennifer said: "Nearly every week, reports of the kidnapping of dogs – from back gardens, from their homes, or even while they’re out for a walk – hit the headlines. “Dognapping” is an alarming, growing epidemic.
"Thieves know that “purebred” and “designer” dogs sell for high sums, and they don’t give a damn about the emotional bonds between the animals and their guardians.
"To help keep animals safe, it’s vital that everyone microchip their animal companions, keep that information up to date, and maintain a watchful eye on their animals, acting swiftly if one goes missing.
"If the worst happens, it’s imperative to contact the police as well as local animal shelters and veterinarians immediately, put up posters, and even get the media involved.
"Those who pay for puppies from breeders or online – rather than looking to legitimate rescue groups and animal shelters – contribute to problems like theft and fuel the greedy pet trade, denying animals in shelters the chance to find love and security.
"By adopting, you can save a homeless animal’s life – and help take price tags off other dogs’ heads."
Jennifer's advice on behalf of PETA is echoed by Dogs Trust's Chief Executive, Owen Sharp, who added that it is 'absolutely heartbreaking' that thousands of dogs are stolen each year.
He wants tougher sentences to be introduced for perpetrators as a deterrent for the crime as fines 'do not reflect the emotional impact of dog theft on the families involved'.
Owen said: “Demand for dogs is at an all-time high but not only that, our research has shown that prices for some of the UK’s most desirable dog breeds are at their highest in three years, and possibly ever, with the costs for some dogs increasing month on month since lockdown began.
“Given the high demand for dogs and the increase in prices, it is no wonder criminals are taking advantage of the situation.
“Our dogs play such a huge and important part in our lives but sadly thousands are stolen each year, which is absolutely heartbreaking.
“Current sentencing does very little to deter thieves and does not take into consideration how devastating it can be to have your dog taken from you.
"Punishment for dog theft is determined by the monetary value of the dog, meaning perpetrators are often given fines which do not reflect the emotional impact of dog theft on the families involved.
“We fully support any action to introduce tougher sentences that will act as a deterrent for those committing these crimes. At the very least, a community order or custodial sentence being given, rather than a fine.”
Dogs Trust also offered advice on how to purchase a dog responsibly during lockdown in order to avoid buying a stolen or smuggled puppy.
It said potential owners should never rush into purchasing a puppy and that buyers should always ask to see puppy and mum together at their home, even if via video call due to coronavirus restrictions.
The charity encouraged people to report any breeders to Trading Standards if something doesn't feel right or there is any pressure to buy.
Dogs Trust's full advice is as follows: "Many dogs are taken from homes and gardens every year so making sure our gardens are secure along with our homes, is a priority for dog owners.
"Ideally a dog shouldn’t be left on their own in the garden.
"Never leave your dog unattended when you’re out and about and always keep them in sight.
"Make sure they are trained to come back to you, however distracted they might be.
"Ensure your dog is microchipped. Having your dog microchipped, and keeping your contact details up to date, gives you the best chance of having your dog returned to you if the worst happens.
"Potential owners should always call the puppy seller beforehand and should never make any payment in advance of seeing or meeting their new pet
"Pitfalls can be avoided by not rushing into purchasing a puppy and following our buyer advice so potential dog owners aren’t ‘dogfished’. Always ask to see puppy and mum together at their home, even if its via video call due to coronavirus restrictions, ask lots of questions and expect to be asked lots of questions as a good breeder will want to know where the puppy is going
"All puppies should be microchipped at eight weeks old and registered to a breeder. Potential owners should be able to check whether paperwork such as pedigree papers, microchipping, proof of vet checks and vaccinations, all match
"If, for whatever reason, something doesn’t feel right or you feel pressured into buying when you see or visit them, do not proceed and report to Trading Standards
"We would recommend potential owners consider adopting a rescue dog before purchasing a puppy, however if you are planning on purchasing a puppy, then do so from a registered breeder."