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New Year, New Advisors for Dog Theft Action

Andy Watts and 'Mason'

AS DOG THEFT ACTION celebrates its first birthday and looks forward to its second exciting year in 2006, it is worth looking back on the achievements we have made in our first year of existence, as well as looking forward to the challenges to come, backed by more new advisors to the DTA team.

2005 was an action packed year for Dog Theft Action. Our first major event was to attend Crufts 2005 where we vigorously campaigned outside the NEC to focus public attention of the increase in dog theft and the lack of an effective strategy to combat it. After Crufts several invitations to meetings were extended. We met the Kennel Club, Dogs Trust and the RSPCA who all expressed concern at the way dog theft was increasing.

After such a successful start and the potential for attending other events in the canine calendar we planned two events ourselves that would continue to focus all this very positive attention. First a Symposium where speakers would encourage the wider public to consider all aspects of this crime; the devastation it causes, the behavioural patterns of the thieves, the attempts to reduce the monthly statistics and future strategies which might have a potential impact. Next we planned to hold a meeting where the focus would be broadened; where solutions could be suggested, researched and followed through. The meeting - which became the Summit – took place in November and provided an unprecedented platform where concerned organisations and individuals joined forces to produce a strategy to combat dog theft.

Throughout this busy year the DTA advisory panel has been invaluable offering help, information and support whenever needed. Our Dogs’ Chief Reporter Nick Mays and Columnist Robert Killick have been involved from the very beginning as have Peter Purves, MPs Ian Cawsey and Andrew Rosindell, Guide Dogs’ Neil Ewart and Allen Parton and his Canine Partner Endal. They were soon joined by breeder and show judge Vivien Phillips who as a guest speaker at our symposium eloquently described her nightmare after the theft of six of her prize winning Grand and Petit Griffon Basset Vendeen show dogs.

The Symposium and Summit provided further opportunities to extend this advisory panel as a number of well known and highly respected individuals accepted invitations to join, bringing a wealth of experience and knowledge to this campaign but above all a love of man’s best friend and a strong desire to help those best friends in desperate need! DTA welcome them warmly and look forward to working closely with them and all our advisors as we continue in this campaign to make the UK a safer place for dogs and their owners.

New DTA Co-ordinators

JO COULSON: has been a Labrador owner and breeder for 40 years and Labrador judge since 1971. She was the Secretary/Treasurer of the Labrador Retriever Club from 1981 to 2000. Jo recently retired as Trustee of Canine Partners and is now a writer and speaker on Labradors and their history and their general health and also on dog management.

When invited to join DTA as an advisor Jo responded enthusiastically: "I have loved and owned dogs all my life and the prospect of the increasing threat of dog theft is truly abhorrent to me. I know the loss of a much loved dog, for any reason, is hugely traumatic, but theft must be unbearable. I am delighted to have the opportunity to help DTA in their much needed campaign."

KEN MCKIE: is the secretary and spokesperson for the anti-puppy farm group Waterside Action Group [WAG]. A dog lover all his life he is a former canine club chairman, secretary and member of the Executive Council of the Scottish Kennel Club for over 20 years, Ken is of the opinion that a large number of dog thefts are connected to the illicit puppy trade, stock for dog fighting or for other nefarious reasons. Ken also believes that a number of thefts are acts of 'ransom' and that the authorities are not treating dog theft as a serious matter.

"I have been concerned about dog thefts from the outset of our campaign against puppy farming after being contacted frequently by the devastated victims of these thefts. In some cases their whole life work in breeding had been destroyed," says Ken. "Many of these emotions are as traumatic as having a loved one go missing. It leaves people lost and confused with no assistance being offered to come to terms with it.

I am honoured to be asked to join the DTA advisory panel. I am delighted to have an opportunity to help end this crime and to help the victims. Like the WAG campaign I have always said that I don’t care who ends puppy farming, dog thefts or related matters - as long as someone ends it. If I can contribute towards the demise of these crimes in some small way then I will be there to do it. I only hope that I can be of assistance to DTA in any way possible".

ANDY WATTS & ‘MASON’: HM Prison Service National Dog & Technical Support Group Operational Manager Andy Watts is passionate about the role of dogs within the prison service. Andy and his two-year-old yellow Labrador Mason, work in the Firearms and Explosive Search Section. Andy is also an active public speaker on the subject describing their professional activities with demonstrations from Mason. Andy is very concerned about dog theft as no dogs are exempt from this aspect of law and order. The cost to the taxpayer comes into thousands if a service dog is stolen.

Andy continues; "In my 28 years of service, 24 have been performed as a Dog Handler. This has been the fulfilment of a childhood ambition to work with German Shepherd Dogs. As a child my family never kept dogs but I became notorious for exercising neighbours’ dogs (particularly if they were GSD), I wanted no reward for this - the companionship of their dogs was more than sufficient.

"I believe I developed a strong foundation of knowledge and experience, which has underpinned my training on how to motivate and empower a dog to utilise its instincts. This produces a sense of satisfaction for the dog, while simultaneously providing a potent utility in support of mankind. I have enjoyed a long and rewarding career, which I must admit, has at times felt like a paid hobby.

"My dogs mean far more to me than mere work tools. They have been totally committed to my personal protection in times of severe hostility and danger. They have been my closest confidants at times of personal despair and as any dog enthusiast knows have always remained consistent in character and integrity despite illness, injury, tiredness etc. (pity humans can't attain this).

"Professionally speaking, the financial loss would potentially run into thousands of pounds of investment if a service dog was lost or stolen without recovery. The personal loss felt by the dog handler is likely to match that encountered by a family pet that is regarded as a substitute child by its owner. It is therefore perhaps no surprise that I fully support the aims of Dog Theft Action".

PC DUNCAN ASKEW: is a serving police constable with the Hertfordshire Constabulary with 24 years service. For most of his career he has been a community officer working a rural beat that separates Hitchin from Luton in Bedfordshire. During the last few years he has personally dealt with several dog thefts and witnessed the distress that victims suffer - as a dog owner himself Duncan found the experience heartrending.

Duncan says: "In three particular cases the dogs were eventually recovered after extensive publicity by the victims. One of the victims was a gamekeeper who had had three dogs stolen;
two cocker spaniels and a Jack Russell terrier. Two of his dogs were later recovered in Ely, Cambridgeshire. This started me thinking about the need for permanent ID for dogs. I sourced a donation from a dog feed supplier and offered a free microchipping day for all the working gun dogs on my beat. A total of 99 dogs were chipped that day!

"My continued interest in this aspect of crime led me to the Dog Theft Action Symposium in Leamington spa last October which I attended with my colleague Michael Holden from the Hertfordshire Neighbourhood Watch Association. During the discussions I heard some bad reviews from victims on how poorly they felt they had been treated by the police. I participated in the discussion to try to highlight some of the pitfalls in the reporting of such crimes but also to show that there are some police officers out there who do care and will do as much as they can to assist in the investigation of such cruel thefts.

"During the Symposium I was invited to become an advisor to DTA and was very happy to accept. My aims in this role are to highlight the vulnerability of the victims of such thefts and to raise public awareness to the fact that all dogs are potential targets no matter what breed or age.

Finally I hope to raise the profile of such victims to my colleagues in the police force in order to change the way that they are treated when reporting the theft of a dog."

Margaret Nawrockyi
DTA Co-ordinator.
Tel: 01652 688089