'Sick at heart': Suffolk dog thefts double in a year
- Credit: LINDA SAICH
When one Suffolk family had their beloved dogs snatched away twice in a matter of months, they felt “sick at heart”, and blamed themselves.
Pet thieves targeted Linda Saich’s kennels in Freckenham, near Mildenhall, twice in 2020 – smashing padlocks to snatch four flat-coated retrievers in June and three family pets, two Jack Russells and a Cairn terrier, in December.
Now reunited with all seven, they have steeled themselves against the possibility of another attack - building a “fortress” around the family business they have operated for 40 years.
The Saich family is among a rising tide of pet theft victims targeted by dognappers across the UK during the pandemic.
Careful not to scare dog owners, individual police forces differ in their advice, with some areas of the country hit harder by the crime than others.
In Suffolk, reported crimes doubled from 16 in 2019 to 32 in 2020, and the actual number of dogs stolen rose from 21 to 52 between January and September. But in Essex, pet thefts hit a five-year low with 50 crimes recorded in 2020 – despite an explosion of lost or stolen dog reports on social media.
In Norfolk there was only a very small rise in thefts last year.
Police in Suffolk, reeling from a huge discovery of 83 animals at a travellers’ site in Ipswich in March, warn thieves are exploiting soaring demand for puppies by stealing, selling and breeding pets.
Officers are yet to identify where any of the dozens of dogs rescued from West Meadows on March 21 were taken from, and are yet to reunite them with their owners. Six people were arrested following the discovery and have since been released under investigation.
More broadly, police are urging dog owners to be vigilant, in particular, advising breeders and those keeping working dogs to review kennel security.
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'You blame yourself'
Registered pedigree breeder Mrs Saich, who runs Lindcoly kennels in Freckenham with her husband Colin, knew her stud male Oscar and three females had been stolen at night on June 15 last year when her other animals “started making a huge fuss”.
“I wondered what on earth was going on,” she said. “Something made me put the light on in the yard which lit up all the kennels.
"I had a horrible feeling; I knew what had happened. In all but one of seven kennels, the doors were open.”
The Saich family count themselves lucky that a day after the first raid, two of the dogs were found at Fen Ditton, near Cambridge, with the remaining pair rescued by a dog warden who spotted them running freely near the A14 at Newmarket.
But their relief at being reunited was short-lived - in December, the couple’s daughter Karen Raven-Saich, had her three pet terriers stolen from a day kennel while she volunteered at her parents’ farm.
Two males, Jack Russell terrier Vinn and Cairn terrier Murdoch, were found dumped in Kent two days later - but it took another nine weeks to find spayed Jack Russell Penny near a road in West Sussex.
The ordeal left the whole family shaken and Mrs Saich said that despite security upgrades at the farm, they are “just waiting to be hit again”.
“You feel sick at heart and you blame yourself,” she added. “But how can you fight thieves like that? It's a losing battle and people will still buy from them.”
Of 52 dogs stolen in Suffolk in the first nine months of 2020, more than half were taken from kennels or breeders.
Another 13 were recorded as being taken from owners’ houses or back gardens, while nine were stolen from dog walkers, from outside a shop, or left with the suspect.
Jack Russell terriers and Cocker spaniels were the most likely to be stolen and the largest thefts included 17 dogs from a kennel in Barton Mills.
Call to action
Amid recent cases, campaigners have been calling on the Government to make pet theft a specific criminal and imprisonable offence.
In October, Ipswich MP Tom Hunt said that Covid-19 had made pet theft reform "more pressing" and this month Suffolk's police and crime commissioner Tim Passmore called for a review of sentencing guidelines after a survey revealed dog owners were fearful of walking their pet during the day.
Suffolk officers want to reassure owners that work is ongoing to track down thieves.
They advised taking clear, identifying pictures of dogs and warned those buying puppies – demand for which the Kennel Club said leapt up by 168% during the first Covid lockdown – to check laws on purchasing animals.
The RSPCA advises owners to never buy a puppy if they have doubts about the breeder or situation, to ask for proof of microchipping, and to trust their instincts.
“The force is conscious of dog owners naturally being concerned following separate dog theft incidents in the county,” police bosses added.
“The loss of any pet can be devastating and we advise all owners to be vigilant and take extra care.”
Assistant chief constable Rachel Nolan, of Essex Police, said that despite social media reports, they have not seen a significant increase in dog thefts.
But she recognised how devastating losing a pet can be and added: “I want to reassure you that all reports regarding pet thefts are taken seriously and when offenders are located, they will be dealt with robustly.”
Visit the RSPCA website for advice on how to keep your pet safe.