By Chirag Trivedi
BBC News Online, London
Pet owners are being warned about the rising problem of dog thefts, which some say are being stolen to fund drug addiction.
Cleo was stolen from kennels by a gang last week
Police have become involved in a number of cases of animal theft.
Earlier this month Lester Poynton, from Chester, Cheshire, was jailed for 21 months for stealing a dog and blackmailing the owners for £1,000 for its safe return.
Poynton said he needed the money for drugs.
There are no police figures about the number of dog thefts, because unless the owner sees the animal being taken it is only classified as missing.
If it is confirmed as stolen, then the crime is recorded, for statistical purposes, under the general category of theft.
But Jayne Hayes from doglost.co.uk, an organisation that helps find missing canines, told BBC News Online that it was a "major, widespread" problem.
"To many families, a dog is like a child," she said.
"And when it goes missing it can be a real strain and people can suffer real emotional torment."
In the last six months the organisation has helped find 160 "missing" dogs.
Of those, 10 were genuinely missing, 20 were involved in ransom demands and the rest were sold on to people unaware they had been stolen.
Ms Hayes said insurance companies paid out last year on 26,000 stolen dogs.
Poynton was jailed for blackmailing owners of a dog he stole
But the figure could be much greater as only one-in-eight dogs are insured.
"If you have a criminal record it is a perfect way for you to raise money because it is not a registered crime," Ms Hayes said.
"You can take a dog off the street, ransom it or sell it down the pub and make some money - much of which just goes into funding other crimes like drugs."
Rachel Collins, from Reading, Berks, had a dog stolen just last week.
Her parents' had put their £650 Shitzsu, called Cleo, in quarantine kennels near Heathrow Airport ready for a family move to Egypt.
But when Cleo was let out for a run she was taken by three men and bundled into a van.
Local police think it could have been a well planned theft.
Pc Tony Riley, the investigating officer, said: "We're not sure how they knew this particular dog was there.
"One of the men distracted a member staff while two others took the dog.
"They could have just taken a chance or they knew what they were after. But if they did know then we're stumped as to how they found out."
A £1,000 reward has been put up for Cleo's safe return.
Pc Andy Baker, from South Yorkshire Police, has dealt with a number of dog thefts.
He told BBC News Online: "It's is a big problem. In just the last week I've had four dogs go missing and they are usually top pedigree dogs.
"We had a case recently where after investigating we arrested one man who had stolen quite a few dogs to sell and he was a drug addict, just wanting quick cash for his next fix.
"But unfortunately, from a police perspective, missing or stolen dogs come low down on the list of priorities.
"More resources should be put into this, but a lot of colleagues would not want this on top of their already large work load."