A "shocking" number of dogs were stolen in 2020 amid a rise in demand for pets. 

The thought of having a beloved animal taken from you and sold is absolutely heartbreaking.

An increased demand for lockdown companions saw 465 dogs stolen in 2020 according to the charity DogLost.

The charity has seen reports of thefts rise by 170 per-cent in the past year from 172 dogs in 2019 to 465 in 2020.

The increase is thought to be linked to the rise in the cost of puppies as people look for companionship during lockdown.

Pets4Homes says the average price being asked for a puppy from March to September 2020 was £1,883, compared to £888 during the same period in 2019.

In an interview released on Friday the Home Secretary Priti Patel pledged to tackle "absolutely shocking" pet thefts and "go after" the thieves profiting from the crime

Speaking on LBC Radio, Priti Patel stopped short of committing to tougher new laws but said she was “looking into what kind of measures can be put in place in terms of the criminality”.

The Argus:

Home Secretary Priti Patel spoke on LBC Radio on Fridya (Charlotte Graham/Daily Telegraph/PA)

It comes after former Conservative leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith called for tougher sentences for pet thieves amid reports of a spike in the crime.

The pet charity Blue Cross states that 38% of animals reported lost have been stolen, and more than half of them are never found.

 Becky Thwaites, head of public affairs at Blue Cross said: "Overwhelming demand has turned dogs and puppies into commodities with people prepared to pay serious money for them.

 “Criminals have been cashing in any way they can on this surge in prospective owners looking for new pets, and individuals or organised groups could potentially steal any dog, no matter how old, if they think they could make some profit from it.

“We can’t stress enough how owners need to keep a close eye on their dog when they’re out and about.”

Here are the Blue Cross' tips for keeping your dog safe: 

1. Don’t put your dog’s name on their ID tag

It’s a legal requirement for your dog to wear a collar with an ID tag bearing your name and  address on it when it’s in a public place.

A mobile number is also a good idea, but avoid putting your dog’s name on the disc - if a thief knows the dog’s name they may be able to handle it more easily and call it.

2. Don’t leave your dog tied up

Try not to leave your dog tied up outside a shop, or in a car where they can easily be taken – thieves will break into a car to steal a dog.

3. Mongrels get stolen too

The Argus:

Dog thieves will take any dog to make a profit. 

Just because your dog isn’t a valuable pedigree doesn’t mean it won’t be stolen.

Dog thieves know how much owners love their dogs, and will sometimes steal them and claim any reward that’s offered.

4. Make sure your pup is microchipped

A microchipped dog is much easier to trace than a pup without.

It is a legal requirement for dogs in the UK to be microchipped by the age of eight weeks.

Tip - Don't forget to keep your contact details on the microchip up to date!

5. Get good photos

Make sure you've got good photos of your dog that show any of its unique features especially. 

This will make it easier to share on social media and helps with putting posters up in the local area. 

It’s also worth having lots of photos of yourself with your dog, as you may need to prove it’s yours if it’s found.

6. Use different walking routes

Vary the routes you take and the times you take your dog out for a walk. A thief could try to snatch your dog if they know where it’s going to be at a particular time.

7. Train your dog to come back

The Argus:

Good recall is vital when letting your dog off the lead. 

Train your dog to come back when called, so if someone approaches them you’re not sure about you can call them back.

If you know their recall is poor, use an extending lead, especially if you’re in an unfamiliar area where your dog could get lost.

8. Be wary about questions

Beware of strangers asking questions about your dog. A stranger could be getting information about the dog before attempting to steal it.

9. Mend fences

Make sure your garden is secure with no holes in fences and keep an eye on your pet when it’s outside.

Thieves can be opportunistic and if your dog escapes from your garden or runs off on a walk they may spot it and take it.

10. If the worst happens…

If your dog is lost or stolen report it to your local council’s dog warden and those in neighbouring local authorities, plus the police.

If you know it’s been stolen, make sure the police record it as a theft and not a lost animal - be sure to ask for a crime reference number.

Ask other dog walkers to keep an eye out for your dog and report the theft to the microchip database so if anyone tries to re-register the chip number you’ll be told.

Also make sure local vets know your dog has been stolen in case someone takes it in for treatment, and tell local animal shelters and rescue charities.