Dog owners say they are now more scared of walking their pets than ever before due to fears over theft
A survey has found that dog owners are more scared of walking their pets than they were this time last year due to escalating fears over thefts.
West Yorkshire's police and crime commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson has already asked dog owners for feedback on how to tackle their concerns in a similar poll to the one launched by his counterpart in Sussex, Katy Bourne. Fears over dog theft have increased during lockdown as more people have bought new puppies and the market for them has boomed.
Figures from earlier this year show that reports of dogs being stolen in Yorkshire have increased by 27 per cent and Google searches for ‘buy a puppy’ increased by 115 per cent.
Victims of the crime are calling for harsher penalties for those convicted, saying that a theft can have a devastating emotional impact on the dog's owner.
Holly Morgan, 26, from Nottingham, had her dog stolen in August 2019 and endured sleepless nights worrying about him.
She said: "Having my dog stolen was definitely the worst, stressful and most heart-breaking situation I have ever had to go though in my life."
Fortunately with help from Facebook organisation Beauty's Legacy, she was eventually reunited with her beloved cocker spaniel Bud.
Bud was found just under 130 miles away from home after being missing for 18 days.
She said: "Even though I have my gorgeous boy back and my family is now whole again I am still living every day in fear that it will happen again.
"Even more so now with lockdown. I won't walk my dogs by myself anymore, even in daylight, as I'm so petrified that they will be stolen from me."
The groundbreaking survey launched in Sussex received over 124,000 responses. The deadline for completing the West Yorkshire survey was last week and results have not yet been made public.
Twenty-two per cent of those who took part said they knew someone who had had a dog stolen in the past year, and 78 per cent said they had grown more fearful of taking their dog out, particularly at night.
Ms Bourne said: "Police forces across the country need a 'flag' for reports of dog theft on their systems as currently it is extremely difficult to track this crime trend and put in place an appropriate police response.
"Pets are part of people's family and the devastating emotional impact of this crime should no longer be overlooked.
"The Home Office have asked to discuss the findings and how we can develop measures that will protect people's pets and boost public confidence. I will be exploring whether it is time to consider defining pet theft as a specific crime."
DogLost, a UK charity that helps victims of dog theft, recorded a 170 per cent increase in the crime, from 172 dogs reported stolen in 2019 to 465 dogs in 2020.
At present, dog theft is not defined as a specific crime, with dogs classed as "property" under the Theft Act 1968.