DOG THEFT was once again the subject of a hard-hitting news item in a major national newspaper, yet a concerted course of action to combat dog theft has still yet to be taken.
The article, Your Money Or Your Dog by Malcolm Macalister Hall, published in The Independent on November 6th also focuses on the growing trend towards dog kidnap and ransom by unscrupulous thieves:
''The ransom demands are going up and up," says Jayne Hayes, the founder of Doglost, an online dog-theft database. "It used to be £500. But last night we had a couple in the Midlands who paid £2,500 to get their dog back.
"They won't talk to anybody, because they feel so threatened - these people know where they live. But the people rang this lady and her husband several times over the weekend, saying, 'That's not enough; it's not worth getting out of bed for that.' And then they got to £1,000. Then the people said, 'No. We've seen your house. You can afford more than that...'
And they kept ringing, and the figure kept going up and up until they got the money they wanted.
"All I can tell you is that they had to go to a very odd place in the middle of the night, leave all this money in a plastic bag, then go home and wait for a phone call - and they were thinking, 'Have we been set up?'
But two hours later they got a call and were told where their dog was."
The article continues: Hayes, who set up Doglost after her own pet was snatched last year, knows of many such cases, and worse ones. ''I know of one figure that was paid to get a dog back - and it was almost the deposit on a house. I can't say any more, because the people feel threatened, and they don't want to risk anything else happening. There are some very, very nasty people involved in this."
Last month, 35-year-old Lester Poynton from Chester was jailed for 21 months after admitting blackmail and "handling stolen goods" - a dog. Poynton had demanded money for the return of a bulldog stolen in Prestatyn, North Wales last March, and was arrested when he met the dog owner and an undercover police officer in a hotel car-park near Mold and was handed £400 cash. Poynton claimed that he had come under pressure from a gang to whom he owed money for drugs.
Jayne Hayes believes that her own dog - Hermie, a French bulldog - had been sold on several times for drug money during the six weeks the dog was missing in and around Doncaster last year. She says that since January this year her online database has helped to reunite 168 missing dogs with their owners. Only 10 of these dogs had genuinely wandered off; the rest had been stolen, and of these 21 had been the subject of ransom demands.
Hayes says that, of the dogs reported as stolen to her database, the most-frequently targeted are Labradors, followed by Lurchers, then Staffordshire bull terriers, then Jack Russells, then Springer Spaniels.
She asks owners to e-mail details of the theft and a photograph of the dog, and passes these on to vets, pet shops, kennels and dog wardens across the country. "One in three dogs reported to us as stolen comes from Kent -that's a hot spot," says Hayes.
The article quotes a typical dognapping story, but one with a happy ending, because the owner was not prepared to kowtow to the thieves. Peter Wildish, who runs a gardening and tree-surgery business near Maidstone. His Jack Russell - named Jack - was stolen from his works yard a month ago. The trail eventually lead to a travellers' camp nearby.
"Jack was in his favourite spot by the outside water-tap in the yard, watching me work," says Wildish. "That Saturday, at about 11am, I heard the yard gate being opened. I called him, but he never came. And then panic set in, because I knew he wouldn't run away.
"I searched all over the fields and the wood. My wife and I drove around and around - there is no logic to it, you just keep driving. After about nine hours we came home. I knew in my heart that he'd been stolen, but I just wouldn't admit it.
"We were up early on Sunday, off looking again, putting up posters. Finally I went to the travellers' camp, talked to a guy there and asked if I could put up a poster. I'd put 'substantial reward offered'. And as I was leaving I heard a dog barking from behind a caravan - and it was Jack. I recognised his bark, and I knew it was him. I got out of the camp, and phoned the police." Wildish claims that a civilian operator fobbed him off. He hung up, furious.
Early the next morning, the phone rang. "This guy said, 'I might be able to get the dog back for you. But we've got to talk about the reward money.' I said to him, 'You tell me what you think.' He said, 'No, no, it don't work like that. You've got to tell me how much you'll pay.' I said: '£100, £150?' He said, 'That's no effing good,' and he hung up.
"That was it. I went crazy, hit the roof. I'm a law-abiding guy, but I made a conscious decision that I was going to go down there and shoot the b......... I was making preparations. Then my wife pushed the panic button on the alarm system to get the police up here before I went..."
There followed, according to Wildish, a furious confrontation with the police. Finally, officers visited the travellers' camp, but they failed to find the dog. Wildish and his wife Glenys decided to launch an anti-kidnap campaign, and their efforts made it on to the front page of the Kent Messenger and local television.
"We made the dog too hot to handle," says Wildish. "And then we got a call from a woman who said that she'd found Jack in a village five miles away." The handover was arranged to take place in a different village, at a derelict shop, which had its windows blacked out with old newspapers.
"Glenys and I had the feeling we were being set up," Wildish says. "It was late evening. I walked up the opposite side of road, and when I drew level with the shop - I couldn't believe this - I saw Jack tied up in the window of the shop where they'd torn a gap in the newspapers.
"I was going to kick the window in and grab him and run, but he was too close to the glass, and it would have cut him. But he had seen me, and he was going absolutely barmy. A woman came to the door, and I said, 'I want my dog back, and I'm not paying any money.'
I'd brought two heavies with me just in case. Just then Jack leapt towards me and broke the string that was holding him, and he jumped into my arms. I just stood there holding him and cried my eyes out."
Kaye FitzGerald-Gorham of Lurcher Link and Lurcher Search UK wrote to Malcolm Macalister Hall to congratulate him on an in-depth and well-researched article.
"I have to say thank goodness someone seems to be taking it seriously at last," she says. "I run the website for Lurcher Search UK (a voluntary organisation which helps find lost and stolen dogs) and I can confirm the frightening facts given in your article....and add a few of my own! This disgusting method of obtaining money by ransom is getting completely out of control and is making peoples' lives hell. I know from my work with rescue dogs how many come into local council pounds as "strays" each week and we do manage to reunite some of these with their owners - often hundreds of miles away from where they were originally stolen- but many, many dogs are euthanased each week purely because they have been dumped so far away from their homes and have no form of permanent ID, so their owners cannot be traced.
"If ALL dogs had to have mandatory permanent ID - tattooing or microchipping- it would be easier to reunite the dogs with their owners and it would also make dog thieves' lives a little more difficult. Both procedures are quick, relatively painless and fairly inexpensive (around £20 - although people on benefits can have microchipping done free of charge if they contact The Dogs Trust) and last for the dog's natural life in most cases. I know from my experience with Lurcher Search UK that almost all the tattooed dogs registered with us, and a vast majority of the microchipped dogs, DO find their way back to their owners, so it's worth spending the money on having it done."
FitzGerald-Gorham adds: "All I can advise the distraught owners who phone me daily to report their stolen dogs, is to lobby their MPs and ask them to DO something to make this heinous crime a less attractive way of making money for the scum who have opted to earn a living through dog knapping and ransom demands. The Government seem keen on spending taxpayers' money on things which most of the population deem unnecessary, yet this is something which affects a vast amount of the general public - why can they not make this crime a more serious offence? Just this morning I was contacted by a man whose Lurcher had been stolen from a locked kennel run......the thieves had knocked down an 80 year old woman in order to gain access to the dog! A few months ago a young boy was punched twice in the face and had his Whippet dragged away from him (with the lead still around his wrist!), put into a car and driven away by four men. Both of these cases are being taken seriously by the Police as people were assaulted - but the dogs are still regarded as "property" and I think it's fair to say that the Police would not have been so keen to attend if no-one had been injured."
If any of your readers would like more information on permanent identification of dogs, or wish to report a missing or found dog, they can contact me through Lurcher Search UK (see link below) or telephone 01422 240168.
DOG LOST.CO. UK
LURCHER SEARCH UK