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‘INSIDE OUT’; BBC1 (North West), 7.30pm, 13th September 2004

THE GROWING menace of dog theft was out under the TV spotlight recently when the investigative/magazine programme ‘Inside Out’ considered the problem in some detail. Sadly, the programme was not screened nationally, but it did air in the North West region, which happens to be one of the regions in the UK with a very high incidence of dog theft.

Reporter Ana Boulter, speaking from an RSPCA Rescue Kennels told viewers that the centre took in around 20 dogs a day, and some of these already had homes and families, but had been stolen. There were, as you would expect, lots of close up shots of dogs in the kennels, but there was no over-egging of the sympathy angle, as the report quoted RSPCA Inspector Mark Gent, who revealed that many of the dogs stolen for Staffordshire Bull Terriers, as well as larger, pedigree breeds which could be sold on for ready money.

Boulter then introduced viewers to Christine Kerrigan from Mossley, Greater Manchester, a breeder and exhibitor of Staffords. Her Staffie pup ‘Ruby’ had been stolen some weeks before by burglars who broke into her house through her conservatory – in broad daylight and, having "trashed the place" and taken anything of value that they could carry, they stole Ruby too, despite the fact that she was penned in a cage at the time.

Christine said that losing Ruby was like losing a member of the family. She also had been surprised at finding out just how many other dog owners has suffered theft of their dogs in this way, some having dogs stolen from inside their houses, like Ruby, or stolen from gardens. Boulter followed up on this point, being filmed scanning an Internet site for lost dogs. She pointed out that it is estimated that up to 50,000 dogs a year are stolen, but with no official figures being logged nationally, it is impossible to accurately quantify this.

Next up was a visit to the Manchester offices of OUR DOGS newspaper, where Chief Reporter Nick Mays told Boulter that he has seen dog theft increasing steadily by the number of stories reported by OUR DOGS. "We carry a dog theft story almost every week," said Mays. He went on to state that the usual scenario was that opportunistic thieves stole dogs to sell on to get money for drugs, whilst others, slightly better organised, would steal dogs and then ransom them to their distraught owners.

Christine Kerrigan’s hunt for Ruby continued with another of her regular visits to the RSPCA rescue Centre at Holmwood to see if a Staffie that had been brought in was hers. Although the dog was the right colour, it clearly wasn’t Ruby. After this, Christine sought the services of private detective Paul Kenyon, who duly made enquiries and, through one of his contacts discovered that a dog matching Ruby’s description had been seen with some young men on an estate in Liverpool two weeks previously. Kenyon was filmed making enquiries with shop owners and passers-by, but sadly, the trail had gone cold.

Three weeks later – and shortly before the film was completed, Ana Boulter paid another visit to Christine Kerrigan’s home, and found a delighted owner reunited with Ruby, who had been found, unharmed, a few days before. Christine explained that a friend of hers – also a dog exhibitor – had been cleaning his caper van when a young man came up to him and said that he had recently bought a Staffie puppy for £150, having been offered it by a stranger.

The friend had realised that the dog’s description matched that of Ruby. Shortly thereafter, Christine had been reunited with her missing pet. She said that she felt sorry for the young man who had bought Ruby, especially as he was naive about the way in which dogs were usually sold, but grateful to him for having given the dog back.

The story had a happy ending – as some dog theft stories do – but there are plenty that don’t. In the closing scene, Boulter walked with private detective Paul Kenyon around a grassed area on the estate where Ruby had been sighted and where, eventually, she had been sold on to the young man who had acquired her, proving that Kenyon’s contact – who lived on the estate – had been correct. "But the thieves have got away with it again," said Kenyon, "as they very often do."

All in all, the eight minute-long report was detailed, factual and not too disheartening, showing that stolen dogs can be reunited with their owners. However, the thefts continue apace and there still remains no national initiative to tackle the problem and treat dog thefts with the seriousness they deserve. However, ‘Inside Out’ are to be congratulated for making a move towards publicising the problem and hopefully getting it taken seriously.