The alarming number of treasured pets snatched by thieves from their owners across West Yorkshire is rising, the YEP can exclusively reveal.
A total of nearly 600 devastated families have reported their dog as stolen to police since 2014 – and Leeds topped the list as the location thieves targeted the most.
More beloved pets were snatched in West Yorkshire than anywhere else in the county, figures obtained by the YEP via a Freedom of Information request show.
From Japanese akitas to poodles, the figures also reveal that the number of dogs stolen is increasing year-on-year.
A total of 111 people reported their dog, some multiple, stolen to police in 2014 across West Yorkshire.
The figure almost doubled to more than 175 in 2015.
These are family members and, for the majority of people, it’s like losing a child.Nik Oakley, spokeswoman for DogLost charity
Fewer than 15 per cent of dogs snatched last year were returned or found.
And thieves are continuing to break owner’s hearts in the region, as police have recorded nearly 150 families have had their dog stolen from January to September this year.
In Leeds, the city council ward to be targeted most by dognappers since 2014 was Middleton Park, followed by City Centre and Hunslet, and Killingbeck and Seacroft.
Nik Oakley, spokeswoman for DogLost, a charity that works to reunite owners with lost dogs, said stolen pets can leave families feeling “sheer devastation”.
She told the YEP: “These are family members and, for the majority of people, it’s like losing a child.
“In a lot of cases when dogs go missing for elderly people, it’s their only companion and that can be very difficult.
“For some people, they just don’t know where to start.”
The most stolen breed of dog since 2014 was the popular Staffordshire bull terrier, at 84.
Other commonly targeted breeds include Jack Russells, Chihuahuas, border collies and German shepherds.
From 2014 up to September this year 113 people in Hull and East Yorkshire reported their dogs stolen – but in West Yorkshire that figure was almost reached in 2014 alone.
The 2014 figure for South Yorkshire was 71, compared to the 111 in West Yorkshire.
In North Yorkshire, 68 families told police their dog had been snatched that year.
Ms Oakley said: “We have to recognise now that dogs that are stolen are transported around the country.
“It is no longer the case that they are sold down the local pub for £50. It’s organised crime.
“If they are a specific breed, like Chihuahuas or French bulldogs, there is a black market for those dogs.”
Of the 146 dog thefts recorded by West Yorkshire Police so far this year, 55 of them took place in Leeds.
Bradford came second on the list at 45, while 21 were snatched in Kirklees and 18 in the Wakefield district.
Just a handful were reported stolen in Calderdale.
DogLost says that when dogs go missing, many are stolen as a result of theft-by-finding, where people take in pets which they assume to be stray but actually have a permanent home.
The charity also says a quarter of all dogs that are stolen every year are taken from their owners’ back gardens by thieves.
Ms Oakley said: “Never leave your dog outside a shop.
“Dogs are stolen from parks as well, so when you are walking make sure you know where your dog is at all times.
“It’s about knowing where your dog is and not leaving it.
“It’s far more likely now to be organised crime than spot thefts.”
If dogs are stolen or go missing across the region, the charity can help reunite owners by using its online system which has thousands of members.
She added: “The majority of people come to Dog Lost for support and guidance.
“Very often, if someone reports their dog stolen, action will not be taken unless there has been a break-in.
“With Dog Lost, we create a page for them and our system alerts our members.
“We also have volunteers on hand to give advice on what to do.”
According to the figures obtained by the YEP, police secured four convictions in relation to dog thefts in 2014.
One case is also currently pending.
But the figures reveal that in 2015, nobody was convicted for any of the thefts recorded.
And there have been no convictions this year in relation to the 146 recorded thefts of dogs recorded up to September.