Warning over rise in dog thefts

Melina Georgiou with her beloved malitpoo Nala
Melina Georgiou with her beloved malitpoo Nala

A Winchmore Hill pooch has been reunited with its owner, but others are not so lucky, reports Olivia Devereux-Evans

A lockdown-fuelled puppy boom has seen a big rise in dog thefts, with anxious owners worried about taking their pooch for walks.

Over the last year, more and more people have been seeking canine companions in the absence of visits to family and friends. The prices paid for four-legged friends have soared as a result – but also made dogs a target for thieves.

Dog Lost, a charity which helps to find missing pets, revealed there had been a 170% rise in dog thefts across the UK. According to Metropolitan Police data, Enfield has the fourth-highest rate of dog theft in London, with 475 reported stolen over the last decade.

One of those stolen was Winchmore Hill resident Melina Georgiou’s beloved maltipoo Nala, who went missing in February when her dog walker’s van was stolen in Barnet. After a frantic search that saw Melina posting all over social media and even appearing on national radio, Nala was thankfully found alive in Surrey a month later and returned to Melina at the end of March.

Melina told the Dispatch: “When it happens to you it is such a big shock because you think ‘well I have done everything I can to keep them safe’. We are very lucky to have her back. I feel like I have won the lottery.

“I am going to do what I can to help people as much as possible. It changes your life. Now I just want to walk quickly with her because I am worried about who is watching.”

The rising dog theft problem has led animal welfare charity RSPCA to issue pooch safety advice. A spokesperson said: “It’s really concerning to hear about an apparent rise in stolen dogs. Pet theft is a heart-breaking and distressing situation for both pets and their owners.

“As an animal welfare charity the RSPCA doesn’t deal directly with pet theft – leaving criminal matters such as this to the expertise of police – but we believe the rise in dog-napping could be as a result of the surging popularity, and value, of certain ‘designer’ breeds and cross-breeds, especially as the demand for dogs has skyrocketed during lockdown.

“We’d urge all dog owners to take extra precautions to protect their pooches from thieves by neutering their pets, ensuring they are microchipped with up-to-date contact details registered, and ensuring they wear a collar with contact details embroidered or an engraved ID tag.

“We’d also advise that owners never leave their pets tied up outside shops or alone in cars, ensure their gardens are secure with gates locked, and ensure their pet has a good recall and doesn’t stray too far when off- lead on walks.

“Anyone who suspects their dog may have been stolen should immediately alert police, contact their microchip company to register their pet as stolen and inform local rescue groups, vets, dog walkers and neighbours.”

In a recent discussion about the rise in dog thefts on BBC Five Live, Debbie Matthews, co-founder of Stolen and Missing Pets Alliance, said such crimes were not taken seriously enough by police and that the meagre punishments handed out to those caught – sometimes fines of just £250 – had created a “low risk, high reward” scenario for crooks, with stolen dogs being sold on for thousands.

“It’s a criminal’s dream job,” said Debbie. “We need protection for our pets.”

A petition calling for the government to create “a specific offence for dog theft, with eight years minimum sentencing and a fine of at least £5,000” has been signed by more than 250,000 people and is set to be debated in parliament.

The RSPCA have also been encouraging prospective owners to adopt dogs. Nationally, the charity remain the country’s biggest hub for re-homing, sending pets to 39,178 homes last year.

For more information on the RSPCA’s ‘find a pet’ service:
Visit rspca.org.uk/findapet