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Working dog owners on high alert after steep rise in thefts

PUBLISHED: 15:06 29 October 2020 | UPDATED: 15:34 29 October 2020

Terry Behan's gun dog Betsy. There has been a worrying rise in thefts of gun dogs  Picture: VINNE BEHAN

Terry Behan's gun dog Betsy. There has been a worrying rise in thefts of gun dogs Picture: VINNE BEHAN

Vinne Behan

Gun dog owners are being urged to watch out following an alarming rise in dog thefts in Suffolk.

Terry Behan, eastern director for the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) with his gun dog Betsy  Picture: VINNE BEHANTerry Behan, eastern director for the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) with his gun dog Betsy Picture: VINNE BEHAN

The county saw one of the largest rises in thefts nationally in the year to July 31 compared to the same period last year, with crimes rocketing from six in 2019 to 21 in 2020, according to Freedom of Information (FoI) request figures.

Gun dogs are particularly prized and make up a “significant proportion” of the thefts, according to the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC). Dog Lost said its data showed an overall increase of 70% in reported thefts this year.

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Back in July, 17 dogs including labradors were taken from a kennels in Barton Mills, near Bury St Edmunds. Suffolk rural crime sergeant Brian Calver, said at the time that working breeds tended to be those favoured by criminals. The FoI request showed the county was the fifth highest hit with Northumbria topping the table.

The BASC urged vigilance at the launch of Gundog Theft Awareness Week which starts on Saturday, October 31.

“It is known that dog theft is on the rise, with Suffolk being one area that has seen a large increase,” said a BASC spokesman.

“The particular focus on gundogs, such as spaniels and labradors, is as a result of their high demand and value as a working dog. The chances of theft are remote but devastating if it occurs. For those who own working dogs it is even more impactful as the dogs are part of their jobs.”

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt has called for pet theft to be classed as a specific offence. In a debate in the House of Commons on October 15 he called for what he described as the “sickening and depraved crime” not to be classed in same way as the theft of inanimate objects – as it is currently – and to be subject to sentences of up to two years.

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“There has been so much heartbreak during the pandemic, but we now have an opportunity to stop the theft of our beloved pets continuing to be part of it. They deserve our protection, and so do victims,” he said.

“Shocking cases such as the theft of 17 dogs and puppies from boarding kennels in Barton Mills, Suffolk, in July would be recorded as only a single crime. Our pets are being snatched away from us in record numbers this year, just when we need their companionship the most.”

BASC eastern director Terry Behan said: “Being victim to dog theft is a calamitous experience for any dog owner. But when your dog is not only your best friend but your livelihood – a partner upon which you rely on implicitly for work – the experience is even more devastating. As a large proportion of our membership is made up of gundog owners, BASC is fully supportive of Gundog Theft Awareness Week.

“There appears to be a growing number of thefts around the country, with Suffolk being singled out as one such area of high increase this year. We are working with our members and partner organisations to recognise the growing threat. The risk of being targeted is minimal but the consequences are devastatingly inconceivable.

“BASC’s focus is on reiterating to dog owners the importance of security measures, at home and when out, the guidelines on buying and selling puppies safely and the actions to take if your dog goes missing or is considered stolen.

“We have been following the parliamentary debate on pet theft closely to ensure the government is aware of a potentially growing risk to dogs. It is a vitally important discussion and one that is required to be heard.”

Toni Paull, BASC’s gundog officer, said gundogs make up “a significant portion” of dog thefts, with their high value making them a prize target.

“Having spoken to numerous victims the trauma and pain of losing your dog to criminals is horrific,” he said.

“We urge anyone buying a dog to undertake due diligence to reduce the possibility of buying a stolen dog.”


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