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Dogwatch is born out of theft concerns


In 2003/2004 the number of dog thefts in the Thames Valley region started to climb alarmingly. Gamekeepers and other dog owners started to talk of up to six or more dogs being stolen every week. One gamekeeper was even held at knife point as his dogs were stolen by three men. When the gamekeepers and dog owners went to the police there was little if any interest taken, as the police assumed the dogs were either straying or if taken the attitude was “It’s just a dog, you can easily get another one”.

Jim Plumridge contacted Our Dogs and asked if there was anything which could be done, as things were getting “out of control”. Margaret Nawrockji of Dog Theft Action suggested keepers put CCTV on their kennels and get their dogs micro-chipped. She also suggested the keepers should insist on getting a crime number from the police if their dogs were stolen.

Some two years past and still the thefts continued. At this point the police were still not really taking dog theft seriously, until Mr Michael Colston’s gamekeeper had two dogs stolen. The theft was very professional, it took place in broad daylight and the thieves knew exactly which dogs they wanted. Both spaniels were in their prime, and as working dogs irreplaceable. The thieves did not take the old dogs or the young pups. The keeper Mr Bedingfield, made enquiries and discovered he was not the only keeper in the area to have lost dogs in the Thames Valley area, and all had been met with a similar reaction from the police. The police claimed that after investigating there was no common connection to the thefts and maintained the dogs were probably straying.

It was at this point that Micheal Colston wrote to the Chief Constable and got the same reply the keepers had been getting. In a further letter from the Chief Constable Mr Colston was informed that an investigation was not possible as there were no descriptions available of thieves or vehicles involved. Mr Colston then wrote to Conservative MPs Boris Johnson and Richard Benyon. Both Mr Johnson and Mr Benyon have attended shoots in the area. They took up Mr Colston’s concerns with the Chief Constable and as a result a public meeting was held in Goring attended by both MPs, the police and eighty members of the public.

Margaret Nawrockji told OUR DOGS: ‘DTA is aware of the increasing numbers of thefts of working dogs in recent years. We appreciate the difficulties owners with working dogs face in trying to deter thieves from depriving them of their experienced and dependable canine assistants. Organizations like the Thames Valley Dog Watch scheme are invaluable for drawing attention to dog theft and for circulating information about those perpetrating these crimes. Hopefully all areas will follow Thames Valley’s example and appoint a dedicated officer to co-ordinate the efforts made by all concerned so that neighbouring forces can benefit and the activities of dog thieves are curtailed.

‘DTA encourages permanent identification of all dogs so that they can be returned to their rightful owners if they are intercepted by someone with a scanner but for this to happen we need a system of routine scanning by the authorities - the police, local authorities, vets and especially seaports for this to work successfully. Hand held scanners are effective and inexpensive and the Petlog database has all the relevant information to identify the owner of the dog. Unfortunately it is currently lucky chance that identifies a stolen dog. We have however noticed a change in attitude to this crime as more and more complaints have provoked better responses from the police and local authorities. Hopefully this will continue – dog theft is a matter of law and order and complacency is not an option.’

At first the police claimed that in the previous year only four dogs had been stolen, and tried to play things down, but then a professional dog trainer stood up and told the meeting that she had had 15 dogs stolen in the previous three years. Other members of the public agreed that they had had one or more dogs stolen, in the last year. Everyone present emphasised that the dogs were not just property thefts but more importantly were the loss of a family friend and in the case of the keepers and trainers present, a loss of tools of their trade also these dogs were valuable asset as well.

The result of this meeting was the setting up of Dogwatch, which has a dedicated police officer assigned to investigate the thefts. One member of the meeting took the names and addresses of at least twenty people who had been affected by dog theft and they became the founding members of Dogwatch. Regular meetings take place now between Dogwatch and the police at their HQ in Kidlington. Mr Colston told Our Dogs that “So far between us we have been responsible for the arrest of two villains, four vehicles and reported no end of thefts of dogs and suspicious incidents”. DC 3882 Jackie Murdock Intelligence Development Officer (Burglary Dwelling) is the officer in charge of investigating dog thefts for the Thames Valley Area. 01865 293956 fax 01865 293979 e-mail: jackie.murdock@thamesvalley.pnn.police.uk

When reporting a dog related crime on 999 or 0845-8505 505, the message will automatically be relayed to headquarters at Kidlington and a relevant communication will be "cascaded" to all interested parties including: Police Area Beat Officers; Dog Wardens; Re-Homing Centres etc as well as our own members. If it is a theft or suspicious activity that might be related to dog theft, tell the operator: "please link this incident to the Countrywatch Ringmaster System".

Dogwatch issues a regular newsletter which circulates details to members of suspicious vehicles, their registration numbers as well people behaving suspicously seen in the area and thefts of equipment from farms and homes as well as the dogs, as these thefts are often linked. Like Dog Theft Action, Dogwatch trying to persuade all dog owners to support the Kennel Club Petlog scheme and is trying to get all vets to scan a dog when it is brought in to the veterinary surgery for routine vet checks.

So far six dogs have been recovered including Mr Bedingfields two spaniels, the first was found in Bedford near a gypsy camp and the second in north Hampshire. The dogs that were recovered were almost all chipped. Mr Colston told Our Dogs that, “The moral of this story is: Get your dogs chipped”.

To enrol as new members, telephone Mr Michael Colston on 01491-641668