Demand for dogs during lockdown has driven pet theft
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Many crimes all but disappeared during 2020 when the Covid-19 pandemic first hit and strict lockdown measures were enforced - but dog theft saw a dramatic rise.
The Kennel Club reported a 168% increase in people searching for puppies on its website from the start of lockdown in March until the end of May 2020 compared with same period in 2019.
That demand for puppies and dogs ramped up prices and criminals soon cottoned on, with a number of high-profile thefts reported both in Suffolk and around the country.
In July 2020, 17 puppies and dogs were stolen from a boarding kennels in Barton Mills, with police then warning owners to review their security.
Speaking in July, Sgt Brian Calver, of Suffolk police's rural crime team, said the issue was a "huge concern".
“I can only assume it’s due to the situation with Covid-19 when people have been at home, had extra time on their hands, doing more walking and thought to themselves, ‘why don’t we get a dog?’” he said.
“That demand has really ramped the price of puppies up and they are going for horrendously high prices at the moment.
“As a result of that, criminals have cottoned onto it and so we’re getting dogs stolen for breeding and puppies stolen just to sell on."
Campaigners have been calling on the government to make pet theft a specific criminal and imprisonable offence.
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In October, Ipswich MP Tom Hunt said that Covid-19 had made pet theft reform "more pressing".
Mr Hunt was opening the debate of two petitions, signed by almost 300,000 people, urging the government to make pet theft a specific offence.
He told Westminster Hall: "Our pets are being snatched away from us in record numbers just when we need their companionship the most.
"Organised crime groups are planning and ruthlessly executing the thefts of our cherished pets.
"They know the money they can make from breeding pedigrees and selling puppies for a quick profit, yet we're fighting this growing tide with outdated and underpowered laws.
"The risk of small fines will not stop this type of organised crime."
This month, Tim Passmore, Suffolk's police and crime commissioner, called for a review of sentencing guidelines after a survey revealed dog owners were fearful of walking their pet during the day.