Dozens of dogs were reported stolen in Merseyside last year, figures reveal.
A missing pets charity said an increase in dog thefts across the UK is linked to the coronavirus pandemic, and warned new owners might accidentally be buying stolen dogs.
Merseyside Police recorded 40 dog thefts in 2021, according to a Freedom of Information request from Direct Line Pet Insurance.
This was down from 42 in 2020, but an increase on 35 in 2019 – before the pandemic.
The Stolen and Missing Pets Alliance said the demand for dogs during lockdown caused a “huge spike” in them being stolen for breeding, with their value also increasing.
Debbie Matthews, chief executive of the charity, said: “Dogs were also essentially being stolen ‘to order’ for people who were looking for a certain breed, but would never know that they were receiving a stolen dog.
“We would always recommend that a new owner gets the pet’s microchip registration checked as soon as possible.”
Dog thefts in the UK
Across the UK, 2,077 dogs were reported stolen last year to 35 police forces which responded to the FOI request – though Direct Line Pet Insurance estimates the real figure to be as high as 2,760.
This estimate was up from 2,438 in 2020 and the highest number since their records began in 2015.
Madeline Pike, veterinary nurse for Direct Line Pet Insurance, said: “It’s devastating to see the number of dogs stolen continue 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.”
She said dog owners should take precautions such as keeping their pets on a lead when in busy areas, and avoiding leaving a dog tied up outside a shop, or left inside an empty car.
How does Merseyside compare with the rest of the UK?
Dyfed and Powys saw the highest rate of stolen canines last year, with 36 incidents per 100,000 households.
Meanwhile, Surrey had a rate of just two dog thefts per 100,000 households.
In Merseyside, the rate was 6 thefts per 100,000 households.
Along with an increase in thefts across the UK, the proportion of pooches returned to their owners also rose last year, to 22%.
Norfolk Constabulary reunited the greatest proportion of dogs with owners, returning 25 out of 29.
By comparison, none of the 10 dogs taken in Lincolnshire were returned.
In Merseyside, six of 40 dogs were returned last year.
Which breeds are targeted most by thieves?
Direct Line Pet Insurance said French bulldogs were the most stolen breed in 2021, followed by Jack Russells, chihuahuas and pugs.