Published: 05:00, 14 March 2022
| Updated: 14:03, 14 March 2022
Dog theft soared by 20% during the pandemic – up from 2,026 in 2019 to 2,438 in 2020 – but legislation passed last year means pet thieves now face tougher sentences under a new abduction offence.
This was celebrated by dog owners as many would agree that their pooch is part of the family, and when stolen pups are luckily returned back to their owners, it can make for a very emotional reunion, so to mark Dog Theft Awareness Day we thought we'd share some of those reunions...
The moment Winnie was reunited with her family
Owner, Henry Griggs and his girlfriend Alex Marshall believed their then six-month-old pup had been stolen from their back garden.
After a long year of searching and endless appeals, Winnie was finally found earlier this year and returned home to her family.
After the reunion, Henry said: "It is just amazing, we are one of the lucky ones. It has been a rollercoaster. We just cannot believe it after a year and two weeks."
Henry continued: "We are over the moon. Our children did not understand what had happened when she disappeared and it was one of the worst things about it.
"It was heartbreaking. We never gave up hope. You can tell she remembers us. She started responding to Winnie immediately. The boys are ecstatic."
The bulldog had been found in Canterbury after he was given to an elderly man by a group of youngsters who asked him to keep an eye on him around six months ago and never came back.
As the pensioner fell ill and went into the hospital, he handed Winnie (who had been re-named Buster) to the RSPCA which in turn passed her to the Lord Whisky Animal Sanctuary at Stelling Minnis for care.
It was able to find her microchip and it was then they discovered she had been stolen.
Dan Tabi was reunited with missing Roxy
When Roxy the mastiff was stolen, owner Dan Tabi feared he would never see his pet again.
Dan later moved house as he was certain he would never see Roxy again.
Although with a glimmer of hope, he updated his address in Roxy's microchip.
A few months later, a member of the public called Swale council to report a large stray dog wandering along the beach near Warden Bay Road.
The dog warden, Melissa Herbert, picked her up and sent the welcome news in a letter to Mr Tabi.
In the heart-warming video of the moment she was returned, the pair are visibly overwhelmed.
In laws updated last summer, owners who don't update their details on a microchip can face a £500 fine.
For Roxy, she may not have found her way back home had Mr Tabi not changed the address on her microchip.
Willow reunites with her siblings after going missing for three weeks
Despite huge efforts from her owners, Gary and Nicky Balderston, and their friends, she was nowhere to be found.
This prompted fears that she may have been stolen and these fears were soon amplified after a series of unusual late night calls from a man claiming to have Willow before hanging up.
However, this story has a happy ending as Willow was finally returned.
The family received a call from a woman named Marina who had spotted a dog found poster outside a home just under a mile away in Peel Drive, Murston.
An 80-year-old resident on the road had taken in a soaked Willow and cared for her before putting out the poster in his front garden, which was luckily seen.
Nicky Balderston said: "We got a call from the wonderful Marina about a lost dog and we were so excited to find out it was Willow.
"She was found by a man outside with no collar on and soaked. She's a bit skinny but in good condition
"I was so happy she's back and so were her brother and sister, as you can see in the video."
Björn, a rare toy breed, went missing in November last year after his owners' van was broken into at Bluewater shopping centre in Greenhithe.
Michael's van was in the car park outside John Lewis when the window was smashed and Björn, who was brought over from Sweden, was taken from inside.
His owners, Michael Fox and his girlfriend Johanna Kerwien, made several appeals for his return and offered a 'no questions asked' reward if the dog was handed into a safe place.
Their plight attracted a huge amount of support, with more than 2,000 people joining a Facebook group to help with the search.
He was found just 20 miles away after being bought by a woman in East Ham as a Christmas present, but when she showed a work colleague pictures of the pooch, they recognised him as Björn.
She got in touch with Michael and Johanna and sent them some photos of the dog she had bought.
Michael said: "We could tell immediately it was him.
"She then offered to meet us to give him back, as she obviously didn't want to keep a stolen dog. She seemed genuine.
"She said she had bought him from someone who had bought him from someone else who was selling him because they hadn't bonded with him."
Apart from being a little scruffy, Michael said Björn appeared to be in good health but they would be taking him to the vets for a check-up.
The nine-month-old puppy, Morse, was snatched from outside a home on Pattenden Lane in December and his story touched the nation after three-year-old toddler Edward Latter sent a tear-jerking letter to Santa asking to have his dog back.
A month after he was taken, Morse was back home with his family after being found by postman Anthony Simmons and mum-of-two Michelle Holt, 20 miles away in Meopham.
Edward's father Richard Latter, 40, said: "We couldn't quite believe it. We got a phone call from a lady on Friday evening who said she'd seen a dog running down the road, so looked online for lost border terriers and had seen our name come up.
"She sent a photo through and when we received it, me and my partner Amanda just stopped and looked at each other and said 'that really looks like Morse'."
The dog was reportedly first spotted by the 63-year-old postman who was delivering a parcel to Michelle on Whitepost Lane.
He said: "I carry dog biscuits on my round in case you come across a nasty one and tried to offer him one but he didn't want to know."
"He was so cold and wet, but I couldn't take him to the vet myself, so Michelle took him into her home."
After a trip to the vets confirmed it was indeed Morse, he was returned back to his loving family.
Mr Latter said: "Within seconds they told us it was Morse and we just broke down in tears. The receptionists behind the desk started crying, too. Edward was over the moon, he really was. I think he knew straight away it was Morse."
Pippa the cockapoo disappeared in November 2020, from the garden of a property in Great Chart.
Just five days later, she was recovered by police from an address in All Saints Road, Hawkhurst, where she was being kept in an outside kennel.
A microchip was uncovered during checks which led to her being identified - just hours later officers were able to return her home.
She was happily reunited with her owners, an elderly couple from near Ashford.
Inspector Pat Griffiths said: "Pippa’s elderly owners were most distraught at her disappearance, especially in the current period of lockdown as she is a beloved pet and companion."
Mr Griffiths added: "We’re delighted we have been able to return Pippa home safe and well and this shows the importance of micro-chipping your pets.
"It is not only a legal requirement, but it can be vital in helping us find and return lost and stolen pets to their rightful owners."
Alongside the new fines for those who don't keep their pets' microchip updated, last year it was made a criminal offence to steal a pet, with a sentence of up to five years behind bars.
The dog abduction offence was added to the Kept Animals Bill, bolstering the raft of measures it already includes to protect pets, livestock and kept wild animals.
Prior to this, pet theft was treated as a loss of property to the owner, but the crime now takes into account the emotional distress caused to both the owner and the dog and will help judges hand down more targeted penalties and sentences for pet thieves.
"It is not only a legal requirement, but it can be vital in helping us find and return lost and stolen pets to their rightful owners..."
And police say all pet theft incidents are investigated thoroughly and owners are recommended to take every measure they can to keep their animals safe.
Superintendent Pete Steenhuis from Kent Police said: "When a pet is stolen, the impact on owners can be devastating and this is not something that Kent Police takes lightly.
"That is why officers right across the force can seek advice from a specialist team when dealing with a report of a stolen animal to ensure we do everything we can for victims and their pets.
"All incidents are investigated thoroughly and our focus is on the people and pets behind the stats and reuniting them.
"In 2020 around a quarter of stolen pets were returned to their owners. In March 2021, six dogs were recovered by officers in Staplehurst within 20 minutes of them being reported stolen.
"All incidents are investigated thoroughly and our focus is on the people and pets behind the stats and reuniting them..."
"Pet owners are always recommended to take every measure they can to keep their animals safe. This includes micro-chipping, home security like CCTV or security lights and ensuring dogs, for example, are not left outside unattended at any time.
"Kent Police works with partner agencies, charities and volunteers to prevent this sort of crime and we are encouraged that people are coming forward and reporting it to us. Sometimes pets are stolen and victims are asked to pay thieves directly without telling the police.
"By contacting us, we can build a better picture of the issues around the county and ensure our advice is getting to the right areas. It will ultimately help us to catch those people who are taking advantage of the bond people have with their animals.
"It is important victims of dog theft contact us straight away and that any suspicious incidents are also reported. Officers can then do everything possible to ensure the perpetrators are identified and arrested."
Reports can be made online by clicking here or by calling 999 or 101 for non-emergencies.