Victim's relief after finding 70 stolen dogs in Carmarthenshire raid as pet thefts soar

  • Warning: This article contains graphic images

The demand for dogs is higher than ever before as lockdown restrictions remain in place and more people continue to work from home.

But such high demand has seen prices soar with the cost of puppies more than doubling over the last year. 

Dog theft has also become a real concern for owners across the country, with missing pets website Dogs Lost reporting a 170% increase in the number of dogs being stolen across the UK since the start of the pandemic. 

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.

Unseen videos sent to S4C’s current affairs programme, Y Byd ar Bedwar, shows a number of dogs and puppies at the site where £40,000 worth of dogs were uncovered.

A number of litters of puppies were found during the raid.

Tony Cronin’s dogs and puppies were just some of the animals found during the raid.

One afternoon on January 22, dog trainer Mr Cronin discovered two litters of puppies and five of his spaniels had been stolen from Carmarthenshire home.

"We were only gone 30 minutes and as we pulled into our premises I noticed the doors were open and cage doors were open and the caravan was open and I realised then that they’d hit us," he said.

Tony Cronin had two litters of puppies and five spaniels stolen from his property. Credit: Y Byd ar Bedwar

Determined to find his animals, Mr Cronin undertook his own investigation to find his dogs with the help of other owners who had also had their dogs stolen.

After receiving a tip off about one location in Carmarthenshire, he decided to take the chance and see whether his dogs were there.

"It was very really well hidden which is why they use it, and as we were going up the track a huge group of dogs came out to greet us, Westies, Labradors, Pugs - everything running at us barking like mad," he said.

"Right in the middle of the group was one of my own dogs running towards me, her tail was between her legs as she was frightened.

"She was quite timid and then she saw me and she ran towards me and leaped into my arms and that was that."

These dogs and puppies were stolen from dog handler and trainer, Tony Cronin. Credit: Tony Cronin

After Mr Cronin called the police, officers from Dyfed Powys Police arrived at the scene and estimated the value of the dogs to be around £40,000.

According to the force, 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.

Dyfed-Powys Police have also set up a task force called Operation Rhinestone to tackle dog theft in the area.

These are just some of the 70 dogs found at the property. Credit: Dyfed Powys Police

This is just one of a series of raids undertaken by police across Wales.

Six suspected stolen dogs were recovered by South Wales Police in Briton Ferry on January 23, with a number of cannabis plantations also discovered at the same location.

Police and the RSPCA have been warning owners to remain vigilant as thefts continue to rise in lockdown.

A freedom of information request revealed that there were 26 cases of dog theft reported between January and September, an increase of 13% compared to the whole of 2019. Superintendent Robyn Mason, the rural crime lead for Dyfed Powys Police in Ceredigion, acknowledged that there had been a rise in dog theft in the area.

He said: "Dog theft has certainly increased with more people wanting dogs during the pandemic.

"The cost of dogs is going up which means there’s more traction for people to steal the dogs and sell them so it has definitely increased over the last year."

Meanwhile, the RSPCA has received reports of individuals posing as workers of the charity and walking down streets using dog whistles so they know which properties to target.

A spokesman for the RSPCA said: "We would like to remind and reassure the public that our inspectors and rescue officers all wear branded uniforms and carry identification.

"If one of our officers knocks on your door, please ask to see their ID and check their uniform for branding. Our staff wear navy blue uniforms with the RSPCA logo, as well as white shirts with a black or blue tie and black epaulets."

The Wood family had six dogs stolen from their yard. Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

A family in Tonmawr, Neath Port Talbot, were left heartbroken after six of their dogs were stolen from outbuildings on their yard. 

Five terriers and a spaniel were taken from their kennels and a white van was seen on CCTV speeding away from their property on December 30. 

CCTV caught a white van speeding down a lane away from the property.

Sarah Wood said the loss has been "heartbreaking" for the entire family, with her eight-year-old son, Rhodri, upset and worried thieves will return to their property.

Mrs Wood said: "We don’t feel safe doing our animals, or don’t feel safe walking the dogs that we’ve got left.

"You can’t carry on with your daily life. It takes over and you feel guilty for doing anything normal, because you think, well, our dogs are still out there, don’t know what’s happening to them."

Six dogs were stolen from kennels in Tonmawr.

Richard Wood said the theft has affected the entire community, with locals nervous about letting their dogs loose.

"We’re scared to leave them off the lead because you hear so many stories of people having dogs snatched off them and being attacked."

Two dogs have since been reunited with the Wood family. One black Patterdale was rescued by a charity in Pyle while their spaniel, Kimmy, was returned to the family after they received a phone call from a nearby vet.

The dog was recovered in poor health and with her microchip gouged out from under her skin to remove any evidence of previous owners. 

The family have shared pictures of the graphic images to help raise awareness of the extreme measures thieves are taking in order to steal pets.

Dog theft is not currently defined as a specific crime with thefts tried under the Theft Act 1968.

Two hundred thousand people have so far signed a petition which calls for anyone found guilty of stealing a dog to face a jail sentence of at least eight years and a fine of at least £5,000.

The UK Government said: "Current court sentencing guidelines for theft already take into account the emotional distress that theft of a family pet can have on owners, and already recommend higher penalties for such offences."

You can watch the full investigation from Y Byd ar Bedwar here. The programme has English subtitles.