Are dog thefts rising? Police say 'perception is much worse than reality'

  • Watch Caron Bell's report

For breeders and puppy owners across the West Country it feels like not a day goes by without a warning to look after our furry friends.

Social media posts about dogs being stolen from families regularly seem to circulate online, but are the stats showing that the crime is on the rise?

Has an increase in demand for puppies and a rise in price caused a spike in theft?

ITV News West Country has spoken to breeders and a family who have fallen foul of dog theft in the past year and taken a look at the data - which suggests there has not been a spike in the crime.

Lena Sperring breeds Labradors in Bristol and says demand for dogs has increased during lockdown.

"People are having to wait for up to six months to get a puppy at the moment," she said.

Dog thefts seem to be on the rise across the West Country but do the facts back up the fear?

"I know people who have actually put their names down with breeders for puppies for 2023, that is how far in advance people are trying to reserve dogs for."

But with increased demand has come fear over puppy thefts.

There have been a number of high-profile incidents over the past year of pets going missing and Lena has said security is one of her main priorities.

"We already have cameras everywhere," Lena continued.

"We have bars on the windows, roller shutters and alarms everywhere. We have got everything."

For one family though it is already too late. The Brown family's daschund puppy called Daisy vanished through a garden gate in April and has not been seen since.

They believe she may have been stolen.

"I do believe she is alive and I do believe she's out there somewhere, I just need people to keep an eye out," Sarah Brown said.

Sarah Brown says her family are broken after their puppy ran away.

"If anyone sees anything please report it. Or if somebody's got her and they want to bring her back we will not ask one question," Sarah continued.

"We just desperately want her back, our family is not complete without her."

What do the statistics say?

So has there been a noticeable increase in the number of dog thefts across the region or is it just that the incidents are now being documented more regularly on social media?

Police forces in Devon and Cornwall, Bristol, Somerset and Wiltshire all told ITV there has been no significant rise in dog thefts.

Statistics from Avon and Somerset Police showing whether dog thefts are becoming more common in the region.

Figures from Avon and Somerset Police show that there has not been any spike or rising trend in thefts over the last five years.

In fact the data shows there has been a slight decrease in the number of reported incidents since 2017.

Wiltshire Police have also not seen a rise, although the force has set up a dog watch messaging centre to help reassure people. There are already more than 2,000 members.

Wiltshire Police's Assistant Chief Constable Debs Smith said the "perception of dog theft is much worse than reality".

Wiltshire Police have said that the reality of dog thefts is better than the perception created on social media.

She added: "Lots of people are posting posts on social media saying that people need to be worried about having their dogs stolen but actually we know that certainly in Wiltshire the perception is much worse than the actual reality of having your dog stolen.

"We would always advocate having your dog microchipped by a vet, having lots of photos of your dog, particularly before and after grooming, and also if you're at home make sure you keep gates and doors secure and don't leave your dog unattended."

The data suggests that it is not rising in the region, despite numerous reports on social media and some scaremongering.

Dog theft is still very rare but for those families impacted it is still a very real issue.

In Devon and Cornwall there were 77 reported dog thefts in 2020-21, compared to 60 the previous year.

But despite the rise this figure is within the average range - with 68 reported in 2018-19 and 84 the year before that.

The force has however introduced a dedicated dog officer to try to reassure the public.

Insp Robin Curtis is the force lead for dog theft. He said: "Even though our numbers are relatively small, as a force we have listened to the public and we completely understand their concern."

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