AS DISCUSSION among online communities and debates between lawmakers intensify over clamping down on pet theft, figures from Dorset Police suggest there has not been a stealing surge.

Recent months have seen a lot of talk about criminals stealing pets, with social media groups frequently reporting suspicious behaviour and concerning experiences.

Nationally, DogLost, a UK charity that helps victims of dog theft, recorded a 170 per cent increase in the crime, from 172 dogs reported stolen in 2019 to 465 dogs in 2020.

However, a Daily Echo Freedom of Information (FOI) request to Dorset Police suggests the force has not seen an increase compared to previous years.

In the year ending March 31, there were 47 reports of dog and cat theft to Dorset Police in 2019/20, while there were 27 reports in 2020/21 - a 42.5 per cent decrease.

The FOI request included data stretching back to 2015/16.

Over this six-year period, there were 237 reports of dogs and cats being stolen. This peaked in 2017/18 when there were 61 reports, with 2015/16 recording the lowest figure of 24.

Dorset Police's figure for 2020/21 was the lowest out of the past five years.

The advice from police

The figures may suggest the pandemic has not seen a theft increase across the county but that does not diminish the fact that many people have still faced the awful experience of having their much-loved pet taken from them.

Dorset Police has a range of advice on the steps that can be taken to prevent or lower the risk of dog theft.

At home

  • Ensure your garden is secure.  
  • Check fencing regularly, especially after bad weather. 
  • Have security lighting and CCTV outside your property and a burglar alarm inside. 
  • Do not leave your dog outside overnight or if you leave the property during the day. 
  • Be careful of bogus caller.
  • Do not use the type of sign outside your property that displays your dogs breed.
  • If you move house or change phone number, update your details with the microchip company. 
  • If you leave your dog with a sitter, do your research.  Do not simply use the cheapest person/service. 
  • Check for any chalk marks on the pavement or wall outside your house.  

Out and about

  • Never leave your dog in your car.
  • Only leave your dog tied up outside shops if someone can wait with it. 
  • When out walking, vary your route
  • Do not let your dog off the lead unless you have 100% recall.
  • If your dog approaches people, call it back. 
  • Beware of talking to strangers too much about your dog. 
  • Ensure your mobile is charged and check the mobile phone signal especially if walking in a remote area.


  • Do not display your dog’s name or your address on its ID tag.  A current phone number will suffice.
  • Check your social media privacy settings. Only accept friends that you know and trust.
  • If you have a local Facebook group for your village/town then consider joining it.
  • Take photos of your dog from every angle, showing coat patterns and any distinguishing features or marks.  If your dog is a breed that is very hard to distinguish from other dogs, then take a close-up photo of its teeth.

Charity advice

Becky Thwaites, head of public affairs at national pet charity Blue Cross, said the Covid-19 pandemic had seen a surge in demand for pets and some "unscrupulous" people were finding ways to cash in on this demand.

“We’d advise owners to vary the times and routes they take when out with their dog on walks and to think twice about leaving them tied up outside a shop," said Becky.

"By law dogs should be microchipped, so owners should ensure they keep their contact details up to date, and your dog should be wearing a collar and ID tag with your name and address when out in a public place.”

Becky added: “If your dog is stolen then report the loss to your local council’s dog warden and report it to the police and insist it is recorded as a theft and not a lost animal. Your dog should be microchipped by law so make sure to report the theft to the microchip database, this will ensure that you’ll be informed if anyone tries to re-register the chip number.”

Tightening up the law

Earlier this month it was reported that Home Secretary Priti Patel held talks with Cabinet colleagues to discuss how to address the “vile crime", with officials acknowledging the “great distress” caused by the loss of a family pet.

Ms Patel has discussed the issue with Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland and Environment Secretary George Eustice.

Officials and junior ministers have also carried out work on the issue, with next steps due to be announced “in due course”.

Stealing a pet is already an offence under the Theft Act 1968, with a maximum jail term of seven years, and Sentencing Council guidelines mean that emotional distress is taken into consideration when punishments are decided.

At present, dog theft is not defined as a specific crime, with dogs classed as “property” under the act.

But ministers have been under pressure to introduce a new specific offence of stealing much-loved pet dogs.

Impact on pet owners

A survey run by Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne found that dog owners are more scared of walking their pets now than this time last year amid fears of dognappers.

The online survey received 124,729 responses with 96.9 per cent saying dog theft was a “serious problem” and that thieves should face stiffer sentences.

Ms Bourne said: “Pets are part of people’s family and the devastating emotional impact of this crime should no longer be overlooked.

“The Home Office have asked to discuss the findings and how we can develop measures that will protect people’s pets and boost public confidence. I will be exploring whether it is time to consider defining pet theft as a specific crime.”

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