Published: 00:01, 01 September 2014
A record number of pedigree dogs are being stolen in Kent and smuggled over to Europe.
According to latest figures, 128 pets of all breeds were taken in the county last year - putting the county behind only London with 165.
Of those stolen, 11% were gundogs - with suggestions they might have been smuggled abroad without certification after becoming victims of organised rural crime.
Gundog puppies are highly valuable, selling for up to £800, while a fully trained one - used for retrieving game - can fetch £3,000.
They are being stolen from kennels, parked cars and on shoots across Kent.
Robin Edwards, County Land and Business Association (CLA) director, said: "Some gundogs are almost stolen to order.
"The number of thefts has been steadily rising since 2009, an increase of some 15%.
"They are pedigree dogs and they can be sold as working dogs or used for breeding."
The group's findings are echoed by the dog section at Kent Police.
Insp Mick Gardner said: "There is no single reason why dog thefts may be on the increase, but the south east's proximity to Europe may go some way to explaining why the region has some of the highest numbers of recorded thefts.
"Most dog thefts are from insecure gardens or kennels and we know that certain breeds are more popular with thieves, namely those that can be bred from or are working dogs of one sort or another.
"In response we have carried out a number of operations to disrupt organised rural crime.
"We encourage owners to ensure their pet is micro-chipped and kept as secure as possible."
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