Sussex Police is taking action to prevent dog theft as soaring prices for pets during lockdown has seen a rise in theft nationally. 

The Force’s dedicated Rural Crime Team (RCT) is tackling this devastating crime by working closely with partner agencies, gathering intelligence and highlighting crime prevention among the dog owning community. 

Reports of dog theft are thankfully relatively low in Sussex but police do ask dog owners to take necessary steps to keep them safe.

Sussex Police recorded 31 dog thefts in 2020, but at least 12 of those were disputes over dog ownership between known parties.

The 19 remaining cases include:
– Six typical thefts where dogs where there is evidence dogs were taken by a third party unknown to the victim
– Six cases where it is believed dogs were lost rather than stolen
– Three cases where the victim has ceased engaging with police and it is unknown if the dog has been found

In seven cases dogs were recovered after being located nearby or at a vets. 

Inspector Andrea Leahy, from the Rural Crime Team, said: “Dog theft is an abhorrent crime where criminals selfishly steal beloved pets from their families – sometimes to exploit these poor creatures by selling them on at inflated prices or breeding them for monetary gain.

“The emotional impact of a missing dog is considerable, with victims left bereft and searching for their much-loved family member, in some cases not knowing whether they have been lost or taken.  Unfortunately, because of the nature of these incidents, it can sometimes be difficult for police to identify whether or not a crime has occurred and, if it has, if there are any realistic investigative lines of enquiry.

“We are aware of worrying reports from across the country circulating on social media and would like to reassure our local communities that cases of dog theft remain relatively low in Sussex and tackling it is a key priority for the RCT. There is currently limited evidence to suggest Organised Crime Groups (OCGs) are targeting dogs in the area, however it is known this is happening across the UK. 

“By raising awareness, we want to both prevent dog thefts and to increase the quality of community intelligence reported to police, so we can take action to catch offenders.”

The Sussex Police RCT works closely with partner agencies, including Trading Standards, to disrupt criminals by cross-referencing information about dog theft, found dogs and puppy farming.

“We urge people to remain vigilant by following our safety advice to help protect your pet from going missing or from being targeted by thieves. It is vital that people to report any suspicious behaviour or information about suspected puppy farming to us as soon as possible so we can take action,” added Insp Leahy.

“Those who cause such considerable distress to families through dog theft will not be tolerated and we will work hard to take action against them.”

Sussex Police & Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne said: “Pets quickly become part of our family and the impact of these crimes is often devastating, leaving an unbearable sense of loss.

“While reports to the police in Sussex do not appear to be showing an upward trend in this area, you only have to look on social media to know that dog theft is a big concern for residents. 

“Sussex Police are issuing helpful advice this week on keeping your dogs safe and how to report thefts or suspicious activity.

“The Chief Constable has assured me that officers will take your concerns seriously and all information received will feed into vital community intelligence to disrupt any criminal activity.”

You can protect your dog from being stolen or getting lost by:

• Ensuring your pet is microchipped and registered with up to date information.
• Investing in a collar and name tag, and use your surname rather than your pet’s name on name tags. Make sure to include your telephone number so you can be easily contacted if your pet is found. Your dog should always wear a collar and ID tag as this is a legal requirement when your dog is in a public place. 

• Taking plenty of clear photos of your pet and remember to include any distinctive markings that could identify them.
• Not leaving your dog unsupervised in the garden, the car or outside shops if at all possible.
• Review your social media security settings, and be careful with the details you share, especially when it comes to your pets, your location or your favourite walking spots.
• Pay attention to your surroundings and know where your dog is at all times when out walking. Be mindful of anyone trying to distract you or draw your dog’s attention away from you. If you feel that someone is following or watching you and your dog in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable, move away from them and call police.
• We know that some dogs may live in kennels outside. Please ensure you make it as hard as possible for some to break in. Use multiple locks and have CCTV cameras covering the kennel as a deterrent.
• Ensure all gates are locked at top and bottom with a shoot bolt and padlock.
• Ensure gardens and yards are secure so that no one can gain entry or pull your dog out. Make sure fences and hedges are secure, with no gaps that a dog can squeeze through.
• Consider driveway alarms and CCTV – these can act as a visual as well as a physical deterrent.

If you believe your dog has been stolen or you have concerns about suspicious behaviour, report it to us online or by calling 101.

You also need to notify your microchip database provider immediately and advise your local dog warden.

If you have information about dog theft or puppy farming and don’t feel comfortable talking to police, you can call independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.