THEFTS OF pedigree dogs are on the increase in the Midlands, particularly the Black Country areas around Wolverhampton and Walsall. Although several of the thefts are perpetrated by opportunistic thieves, there are fears that the Midlands could be the latest area targeted by an organised gang of dog thieves who tour the UK, stealing in several counties, which then become dog theft hotspots. For all concerned, stealing family pets is an incredibly cruel and distressing crime.
The Kennel Club has dubbed dog theft a "nationwide problem."
Jane McDermott of Bilston and her 12-year-old daughter Jennifer learned the hard way not to be too trusting. In July their pedigree pup Daisy, a four-month-old Yorkshire Terrier, had slipped out of their home in Bunkers Hill Lane and was snatched.
Jane appealed desperately for the dogs' safe return but to no avail. However, five weeks later came a sudden breakthrough.
"The person who took her had sold her to someone and one of their relations realised it was our dog. The people who had bought it brought her round to us. It was our puppy - we were so happy to get her back."
Jane and her partner compensated them for the £100 they had paid out in advertising her dogs theft. In her frantic efforts to get Daisy back, Jane had advertised in local newspapers and plastered telegraph poles and lampposts with posters.
She received many calls of support from kind-hearted members of the public who worryingly told her that they too, had suffered a similar loss.
"It was really awful not knowing who had got her or if she was being treated properly," recalls Jane. "We don't let Daisy out of our sights now, we're a lot more careful than before.
We think it could have been drug dealers. They don't see a dog they just see the money."
The stark warning from the Kennel Club is crystal clear: don't ever leave your dogs unguarded. Don't leave them alone in the garden; or tied up outside a shop, or in the back of the car.
KC spokesman Phil Buckley says that the message needs to be hammered home that dogs, particularly pedigrees, are valuable and well worth stealing.
"This is a nationwide problem now," he says. "Many thefts are performed by opportunists whereby they walk past a garden, spot an unattended dog and make off with it.
"They will then take them down the nearest pub and sell a dog worth perhaps £500 for £100.
"Society has changed. There was a time when you could go out and leave your back door open, you can't do that any more and you can't leave your dog unattended either."
Some dogs are being stolen by sophisticated criminals who know their market value.
Others are taken by petty thieves or by drug abusers needing their next fix.
But there is another, far more shocking reason why in particular, guarding breeds are stolen.
"Some, such as Staffordshire bull terriers are stolen either for fighting which is horrendous, or to train fighting dogs," says Mr Buckley.
The Kennel Club has recently launched a campaign to encourage dog owners to get their dogs microchipped which will make them easily traceable.
In June 2003, two Yorkshire terriers were taken from a house in Millichip Road, Portobello, Willenhall, Staffordshire.
Thieves snatched 18-month-old Lillian from the garden and then broke into the house to steal nine-month-old Alfie.
Lillian was later returned by a young woman who said she had bought her for £60 from a man on a street corner.
In the same month, thieves made off with two ten-week-old Cocker Spaniels in a night time raid from a kennels in Chester. The black pups had been sired by a Crufts winner and were said to be "extremely valuable."
A month earlier, pedigree Staffordshire bull terriers were stolen from the home of a Tividale couple, who feared they might be used in dog fighting. The dogs had escaped from their home in Anita Avenue and were later seen in the back of a Ford Fiesta. One of the dogs was heavily in season.
In July a pedigree Staffordshire bull terrier puppy called Boston was stolen at a busy Wolverhampton show.
City councillor Malcolm Gwinnett had tethered the dog to a tent peg at a bouncy castle attraction. The six-month-old puppy belonged to his daughter, Tracy Jukes.
Three years ago in November 2000, a 39-year-old woman from Lower Gornal was punched and knocked to the ground by two masked thugs, who stole her dog. Rona Bate, suffered a broken nose in the incident.
She had been walking her four-month-old Rottweiler puppy, Bessy Bear, along Sandyfields Lane when the two masked thieves approached her.
"I had a broken nose but I am more upset about them taking my dog," she said at the time.
"I have only had her a few months, she is my first ever dog, and I can't believe they just came along and took her in that way."
Violence in dog thefts is on the increase. Earlier this year, two men approached a woman out walking her dog in a Hertfordshire park and tried to steal her dog. When she resisted, she was slashed with a knife and hospitalised.
MP Malcolm Moss has called for Government action to introduce some nationwide initiative to tackle the growing menace of dog theft, but the Home Office insist that this is not a widespread problem.