Published: 13:10, 27 April 2022
| Updated: 14:10, 27 April 2022
Dog thefts in the UK have reached a seven-year high - with the equivalent of eight dogs now being stolen every day.
French bulldogs and Jack Russell terriers were the most targeted breeds last year, according to the latest data available.
London was the dog theft capital of the country in 2021, with the Metropolitan Police handling 422 reports followed by West Yorkshire with 199 and Kent Police with 182, up from 118 in 2020.
While it was Norfolk Constabulary that saw the greatest success with returning missing dogs last year - reuniting 25 out of the 29 dogs with their owners - according to Direct Line Pet Insurance which conducted the research.
The insurance firm has been analysing dog thefts for the past seven years and says the numbers of animals being taken has risen by 16% since 2015 and are now at their highest levels since staff first began pulling apart the figures obtained through Freedom of Information requests.
This means 53 dogs were stolen every week in 2021 - or around eight each day - which is 321 more than 2020 and 611 more than 2019, when Direct Line recorded the lowest rate of dog thefts (2,148).
French Bulldogs were the most stolen breed in 2021 with a 29% rise in the number taken compared to 2020. Jack Russells were also seemingly highly sought after by thieves with the number taken recorded at 24 last year, up from 10 in 2020.
Other small dogs like Chihuahuas and pugs were also popular targets, say insurance experts.
Direct Line says around 16 million people now own a dog - with around 3.8m of those having bought their first pet during the pandemic when there was a significant puppy boom - making the opportunities for thieves more abundant than ever.
With lockdown and the demand for dogs also leading to a rise in the cost of breeds, pets have become a more lucrative target for criminals, particularly in the case of pedigrees such as French bulldogs which can now cost upwards of £3,000.
The rising number of thefts prompted the government last year to compile a pet theft taskforce - made up of police, government officials and animal charities - which has been looking at possible measures and new laws that could help bring down the number of instances of animals being taken.
Veterinary Nurse for Direct Line Pet Insurance Madeline Pike said: "It’s devastating to see the number of dogs stolen continues to increase across the country. Unfortunately, the increase in dog ownership since the pandemic began and the subsequent rise in prices of these animals seems to make the crime even more appealing to thieves.
"The law will soon recognise dogs as members of the family with feelings, not just owned property and we hope that this will deter criminals, especially if they can be punished more severely if prosecuted.
"Anyone considering buying a dog should thoroughly check its provenance and see the dog with its mother, to ensure they’re not buying from a criminal organisation. And taking simple precautions such as not leaving your dog tied up outside a shop, left inside an empty car or keeping it on the lead when in busy areas, will help reduce the likelihood of being targeted. It’s also vital to keep microchipping contact details up to date in case your dog does go missing and is handed in."
While London, West Yorkshire and Kent witnessed the highest numbers of dog thefts, Lincolnshire and Surrey Police took just 10 reports each.