SOME say it’s the worst thing imaginable that can happen to a family.
Waking up one morning to find your dog is missing can be just as traumatic as losing a relative. So imagine how you’d feel upon learning your dog had been stolen. That’s a reality for dozens of people across Manchester, as cases of dog theft have rocketed by almost 50 per cent each year.
This rise in the amount of dog thefts in Manchester is something that Chloe Ayres from Bolton is all too familiar with. Her German Shepherd puppies, sisters Izzy and Ruby were stolen last October from their kennel in the front garden at the family home. It was the second time they had been stolen in a year.
“It was really devastating. My daughter had to sleep in my room for a while because she thought the thieves were going to come back and get her,” says Chloe.
“My three-year-old son woke up early every morning ready to give the dogs their breakfast.”
The nightmare rumbled on for several weeks, and Chloe found explaining the situation to her young children tough.
“I still had to stay positive for the kids but like I was kind of giving up hope of ever finding them. It’s hard when you hear no news and you’ve still got to carry on with your life and going to work and getting the shopping and stuff.”
Eventually, on December 13, after being stolen for nearly two months, Chloe’s dogs were reunited with her thanks to the help of charity Dogs Lost.
“When I had the call from Claire at Dogs Lost I was in shock. I couldn’t wait to tell the kids, especially my daughter, the good news. It was like an early Christmas present.”
Thankfully, Izzy and Ruby were unharmed when they were found, and because they were microchipped they were able to be returned back to the family home quickly.
Despite the happy ending, Chloe still remains unsure why her pets were targeted.
“I thought that people who steal dogs only go for celebrity brands, but this goes to show that any dog owner can be a victim.”
Chloe’s ‘devastating’ experience is becoming common on the streets of Manchester. An FOI request made by Quays News has revealed that so far Greater Manchester Police have received 116 reports of dog thefts since March last year. This figure is an increase of nearly 50 per cent from the year before, and does not account for cases that go unreported to the police.
It gets worse. Information from several police forces across the country makes chilling reading for pet owners in our city. Last year Manchester had the highest reported cases of pet theft in the UK, excluding data from the Met Police, of which most cases involve dogs, with 312 incidents reported. This was followed by Newcastle with 164 cases and Bristol with 107 incidents of the crime being reported there.
So why does Manchester have such shockingly high rates of dog theft?
One theory is that dogs are being snatched for money. Pedigree dogs such as the Shih Tzu and Pugs are some of the most stolen breeds in Manchester, and are estimated to be worth a lot on the black market.
Sylvia Green is from the national charity Dog Theft Action, which campaigns to raise awareness of the growing problem.
“There appears to be a rise in dog theft generally around the country,”
She added: “Manchester and the South East in particular. This could be due to the economic situation. It is easy money when pedigree dogs can fetch several hundreds of pounds. Dogs are also sold on for breeding and can be used for dog baiting.”
This is bound to make a few of us feel a little uneasy. After all, the top five most popular dogs people own in Manchester are all pedigree, with the Staffordshire Bull Terrier being the most popular breed worth over £850.
However, one dog charity dispute Dog Theft Action’s claim that pedigree dogs are more attractive to thieves because they’re worth a lot of money.
Caroline Kisko is the secretary of dog welfare charity The Kennel Club. She says the rise in the number of dog thefts in Manchester is concerning, but dogs are not worth as much as thieves think.
She says: “There is very little money to be made from the reselling of dogs, regardless of whether they are pedigree or crossbreed, but unfortunately criminals may not be aware of this and as such every effort should be made to ensure your home and garden is secure.
“The reported increase in dogs being stolen in Manchester is most certainly a concern and it highlights the need to be vigilant as a dog owner and to do your best to make it as difficult as possible for criminals to have access to a dog on its own.”
Whether your Great Dane insists on sharing the bed with you at night, or your pug insists on coming shopping with you-coat and all- most of us do our best for our pets. But which owners should be taking extra precautions?
Staffordshire Bull Terriers or Staffies as they’re affectionately known are the most targeted breed in Manchester. Many charities think this is because they are used by criminal gangs to act as guard dogs. Dog Theft Action say gangs are marking properties where these dogs are living with ‘chalk marks’ and are leaving symbols on fences and gates.
The reasons for stealing dogs vary greatly, but there’s no disputing where dogs are most likely to be taken from. Figures from Greater Manchester Police reveal a dog was considerably more likely to be stolen if it was left alone in a garden.
As a city it seems we are besotted with man’s best friend, and this was proven to be true last September, when Manchester Dogs Home tragically caught fire. Sixty dogs were killed. Fundraisers from across the country took part in a campaign by the Manchester Evening News to raise money, and over two million pounds was raised to fund rebuilding the home.
This appeal also attracted numerous celebrity supporters including the talent show judge Simon Cowell and Bruce Forsyth’s daughter, Debbie Mathews.
Debbie, a victim of dog theft herself, is now campaigning for the government to do more to tackle this crime. Speaking to Quays News, she said: “Nowadays you know people want your dog. They take them from your car, from gardens, and house burglaries where dogs have been taken. It’s just getting horrendous.
“I don’t know what needs to be done to make the police realise how serious this is but the more we share on Facebook and spread the word you know fore-armed is fore-warned.”
In 2006, Debbie’s Yorkshire Terriers, Widget and Gizmo were stolen from her car. She says police didn’t empathize with her when she reported the crime.
“I got back to my car and my car window had been smashed and there were two security men standing by the car and I was running towards my car cos I could see the window wasn’t there and I said ‘are my dogs ok?’ And they looked in the car and said ‘what dogs?’ And well it was the most awful feeling I then phoned the police. And they said ‘what did you have in your car that was valuable?’ and I said ‘well my dogs were in the car’. They said ‘no no what did you have in your car that was valuable?’ I said ‘well my dogs!’ And they said ‘well as its only dogs we won’t come out’.”
In the days following the incident, Debbie says she struggled to cope with everyday life.
“It was the end of the world I didn’t eat, didn’t sleep. Your dog is family.”
She believes if it wasn’t for her father’s celebrity status and having healthy contacts in the media, she would still be looking for her dogs today.
“We launched an appeal live on GMTV, and on the first morning of the appeal the man who had bought one of the dogs, Widget was watching and he phoned into the programme and said ‘I think I’ve got one of the dogs’. The dog warden scanned him so I knew it was Widget then I went and picked him up then the following morning we did another interview and said ‘right we’ve got Widget back, we know he’s been sold in a market in south pool’ and that morning the lady who’d bought Gizmo was watching and I got Gizmo back,” says a sighing and laughing Debbie.
Thankfully Debbie was only wrapped in a blanket of uncertainty for 10 days, but following her ordeal she now campaigns tirelessly for a change in the law.
Currently by law dogs are listed as property and not creatures, meaning most people guilty of this crime are given a community order or a small fine. She believes educating more people about the crime in Manchester could change people’s perceptions.
“You need to know about it, you need to spread the word. I do a lot of campaigning in the South and you know we’ve already seen success in terms of more people being aware of the issue. They say we’re scaremongering but when it’s happened to you, you don’t want it to happen to anyone else. I mean it’s just awful.”
From breaking into gardens to smashing car windows, it seems some thieves will go to extremes in order to steal people’s pooches. Despite this, the Kennel Club say there are some things that can be done to dramatically reduce your chances of your dog becoming the next victim.
These include making sure that your home and garden are properly secure, having your dog microchipped and its details registered with a microchipping database such as Petlog, and making sure you can see your dog when out and about on walks, not leaving unattended in the garden for long periods of time.
So what is next for Manchester in tackling this pooch pinching epidemic? A campaign is being launched this month by Vets Get Scanning, targeting Northern cities to ensure vets scan microchips on every animals first visit to the vets.
The same petition ran last year and gained over 26,000 signatures. It is fronted by Sir Bruce Forsyth, and will mean that once a microchip is scanned, a dog’s registration number can be checked, and then returned to its rightful owner.
If enough signatures are achieved, and enough people write to their MP, then it could spell a ray of sunshine for the 52 per cent of dog owners nationally who never seeing their dog again, according to the campaigns website.
Dog theft may be on the rise in Manchester, but there are actions you can take to stop these heartless criminals in their tracks, so that no one has to experience the heartache Chloe and Debbie’s family have had to face.
If you have been affected by the story or by this crime, you can contact Dog Lost on 0844 800 3220.
By: Vicky Barker
Image credit: Ian Harvey via flickr creative commons