Man's best friend is fast becoming a sought-after target for thieves, with so-called dognappings up by almost 75% in London alone last year. Owners have been left fretting, and say the police's response doesn't help.
Jayne Hayes had just let out her dog, Hermes, for a minute.
But that did not stop the thieves snatching the Miniature French Bulldog from her garden.
"I didn't know what to do, I was in tears," she says. "Hermes is part of the family. I started putting up posters and a couple of weeks later a woman rang me to say she had seen my dog with a group of youths."
Eventually, Ms Hayes, from Nottinghamshire, tracked down the gang, but the police were unwilling to do anything.
Jayne Hayes says there is a lack of support for people who have dogs stolen
"They just weren't interested. In the end we had to take the matter into our own hands. My partner and I realised the youths were going into town and leaving Hermes outside when they went into the shops.
"My partner grabbed her and started running to the car, but unfortunately people thought he was stealing the dog and tried to stop him by which time the boys caught up with him and started attacking him.
"The police were called and eventually we were told we could keep the dog, but they never pressed charges against the boys."
Ms Hayes, 45, was so shocked by the lack of help available for her when Hermes went missing in 2003 that she set up a website to help other people in her position trace their pets.
In the three-and-a-half years Doglost has been operating, calls to the helpline have soared with 100 people a week now reporting dog thefts.
Her organisation relies on email alerts to a network of over 30,000 members to help track down missing and stolen dogs.
She says 80% of the 3,500 dogs they have helped to find have been returned in suspicious circumstances.
Stories of dognapping are on the rise - last week owners in one part of Wales were put on alert after 10 Jack Russells have gone missing in a few months. But it's hard to get accurate figures on the full scale of the problem. Most police forces only record dog theft under general theft and many owners report difficulties in getting police to accept their dog has been stolen unless they have seen them in action.
But figures obtained by the BBC from the Metropolitan Police under the Freedom of Information Act have shed some light on the issue. They show in London dog thefts rose by 74% in the last year, to 417 cases.
There seems to be a variety of reasons for the rise. Half of the dogs taken in London and about a quarter across the rest of the country are Staffordshire Bull Terriers, leaving some to suggest they are being used for guard dogs or for fighting.
And some thieves have targeted rare breeds which can fetch several thousand pounds on the black-market.
But Ms Hayes believes most thefts are more opportunistic than that.
"I think many dogs are being snatched just to make a quick £50 by selling them down the pub to pay for drugs."
However, Andy McNamee, from the Missing Pets Bureau, which has seen the number of stolen dogs reported to its helpline increase from 125 to 300 in the last year, also says thieves have started to work out how to make more money.
"What we are now seeing is thieves holding owners to ransom. The second most popular dogs to steal are cross-breeds which are worthless apart from to the owner.
"Once posters go up, especially if a reward has been offered, they contact the owners saying they bought the dog off a man in the pub but he wanted £300 and they will only give the dog back if the owner coughs up the money."
About a quarter of all dogs stolen in the UK are Staffordshire Bull Terriers
One of the problems many owners report when trying to find stolen dogs is an apparent lack of interest from police. Dog wardens, who are employed by councils to deal with stray dogs, agree.
Mark Berrill, secretary of the National Dog Warden Association, says: "The police are too busy to get a handle on this and we don't have the powers to enter premises or arrest people.
"It is horrible for owners, but I can't see things getting better. My advice would be to microchip your dog, not enough people are doing this."
Mekin Enver, of the Police Federation, which represents more than 130,000 police officers in England and Wales, says officers do have sympathy for owners, but admits they have to prioritise.
"We have to work out, in consultation with local people, what we should focus on," he says. "I think the only way we can improve the situation is by getting more coordination among police, dog wardens and owners.
"If people have evidence a crime has taken place then we will look into it, but the problem with dog theft is that quite often that evidence is not there. So where do you start?"
Beverley Cuddy, editor of the Dogs Today magazine, shares his despondency.
"Unfortunately owners are not always as careful as they should be, they leave them outside a shop where they are easy to snatch. But the problem is the more we talk about this and publicise it the more it happens."
Add your comments on this story, using the form below.
My wife and I have two English Setters and when walking with our dogs in the New Forest we were approached by a couple of middle aged ladies who commented how nice our dogs were and then went on to say 'i bet they were expensive' I replied yes and the chip was well worth the money too!!
Robert Pridham, Bransgore / Christchurch/Dorset /England
Micro-chipping your pets should be top priority. Its not expensive and would prove beyond all doubt that a dog/cat belongs to its rightful owner.
Dear Ms Hayes, can you please ask the supermarkets to put notices up not to leave their dogs outside just to remind some folk that this is a real danger you would not leave a 3 year old all alone chained out side so why dogs. I think it is wonderful that you have taken action for these poor, faithful, dumb animals
melody dudeney, london
The police must take action against this crime - a 74% increase is appalling! A mongrel dog may not have much monetary value but it's owner could be devastated by the loss. These people would pay huge sums to ransom their pet (as they would a family member) and that's easy money for the thieves if the police don't take this seriously.
our 1yr old liver/white springer spaniel was stolen from her kennel in broad daylight the police are not interested but in a recent article in the basc working gun dogs are stolen to order and the numbers have risen in the last 2 yrs we have offered £1000 reward for information on ella we have paid for adverts in numerous papers and travelled over 1000 miles with nothing at the end of it i have emailed crimewatch who can only do an appeal on behalf of the police (fat chance) i have emailed richard and judy and still not had a reply from their researches nobody is interested in giving publicity because they see it as only a dog and we are supposed to be a nation of dog lovers
kind regards shirley
shirley harrison, north lincolnshire
What is incredible about this is that it is yet another so called "petty crime" that the Police are effectively saying you can commit without fear of being caught. If someone stole £500 from you the Police would at least treat it as a crime, why can't they do the same for something that causes so much stress and trauma for the victims. If there are no consequences then it will just keep growing. Surely this is exactly the sought of thing Community Policing should be concerned with.
Although it was almost 15 years ago, I'll never get over the theft of our Barrington - an extremely handsome pedigree Yorkshire terrier. We'd only left him a few minutes outside of Penny Lane Post Office, and then he was gone. It makes me want to cry just thinking about it.
Bobby Deaves, Liverpool
Police seem to be very thorough at collecting penalaties but not so good at helping people when they are burgled or is for example they have their dogs stolen. Collecting money is obviously more important than spending it.
Fully aware of the situation regarding dog theft. My dogs have a tattoo number in their ears but some councils will not look for this as they only scan for microchips. Police are also scanning dogs at traveller sites to see if stolen.
val isherwood, co durham
Owners should keep their dogs on leashes and never let them out unsupervised. There is no excuse for either dogs or cats to be let out in a world full of traffic and cruel people.
A tattoo or a microchip and photographic evidence that the dog is their property would scotch the dognappers fairly quickly. Has anyone in your country tried suing the thieves? That can work when the police don't.
Nancy, New York, USA
Microchipping your dog will help to an extent but police really need to take this seriously. I know of people who have had a whole kennel load of highly trained gun dogs stolen never to be returned. These dogs are worth thousands of pounds to their owners both in value of the dog but also in terms of their livelihood. These dogs were stolen not be opportunists but by organised gangs. Another tip is neuter your dog and have an "I am Neutered" tag on their collar, that way would be dog nappers will have less incentive to steal them for breeding purposes.
Rhyannon Boyd, Gloucestershire
This is typical of the police in this country. If they had nipped it in the bud when the problem first arose and made an example of these people, then this problem would not be escalating, and of course it will continue to get worse.
Michael Simcock, manchester
To many people dogs are their lifetime companion and are as dear to them as children. That the police take the matter so lightly does not surprise me. Incedents such as my son being beaten up; a local OAP's window being broken; theft of a local disabled person's dog may not be thrilling to the police but they are heartbreaking to ordinary people. The police seem more concerned with high profile cases involving large, rich and powerful comercial companies than in serving the ordinary communities that pay their wages.
Another big problem is people thinking that if they find a stray dog they can keep it. This is illegal. A found dog HAS to be reported to the dog warden and authorities, A dog is as much property as a wallet or car, keeping it without reporting it is illegal. But the police must start to take dogtheft seriously If the police don't act then owners may well decide to act alone, this could result in a far bigger and possibly violent crime for the police to deal with. Dogs are like peoples kids, If I was on a jury I wouldn't convict anyone who took action against a dog thief. Its akin to kidnapping.
How about microchipping your precious pooch?
Marika , Garfield, New Jersey USA
I live in central London and my persian cat lives with me. Unfortunately, due to hearing horror stories such as these, I refrain him from going outside. I'm not just concerned that he will be stolen, but also that youths will find it amusing to purposeefully harm him. I have decided to move out of London so that I can afford a nice safe garden for him to run around in!!
Sian , London
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