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Petnapping On The Rise In England

by Sherry Morse

Cold-blooded criminals are stealing pets from prosperous homes across England and demanding large ransoms to guarantee their safe return.

Jayne Hayes, founder of Doglost, an online dog theft database which she started after her own dog was stolen last year, says the ransom demands have skyrocketed with one couple paying 2500 pounds (about $5000) to get their dog back.

Newspapers reporting on the problem of family pets being stolen for ransom have said that although the problem is not yet large scale, it has emerged as a "faintly bizarre branch of criminal enterprise."

Often the dogs are ransomed for drug money and at least one person has been sent to jail for almost two years for handling stolen goods and admitting blackmail in a case of dognapping.

Brian Milligan, a dog warden in Kent, says, "The stress and anxiety these owners go through when their dog is stolen is unbelievable. Some people don't understand it and say to them: 'It's only a dog - you can get another one.' But to these people, it's their life."

Milligan said he knew of a case where a woman handed over 3000 pounds to get her dog back.

Both Hayes and Milligan said that, in most cases, the owners who have paid ransoms for their dogs are unwilling to talk about their experience because they have been threatened by the thieves.

In East Horsley, three dogs have disappeared over the last three weeks from the Effingham and Bookham Commons. Sarah Lloyd-Williams, who owns one of the missing dogs, said she believes that the spate of dogs disappearing seems a bit coincidental.

"We just feel a bit helpless because it is such a long process to find out what has happened to them," she said.

Melanie Cutler, owner of the other two missing dogs, added, "I am very upset and hurt and I can't get over it."

Milligan estimated that 50,000 dogs are stolen in England each year, and said that some dogs - especially pedigreed dogs, or working dogs such as Labradors and retrievers - are never returned. He said it is likely that those dogs are being stolen by 'professional' dog thieves who then sell them on for breeding.

2003 Animal News Center, Inc.

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