Dog owners in South Croydon have been warned to be vigilant while out walking their prized pooches, after tell-tale signs suggesting that thieves may be operating in the area were found by gardeners at a local church.
Plastic ties fixed to gates or fence posts are being regarded with suspicion following a spate of dog thefts over the past year, in and around Croydon.
Volunteers at St Peter’s Church in South Croydon tweeted on Sunday, “Please take care. These have appeared on handrails by the church but are nothing to do with work at the church.
“We have heard it is a sign for potential dognappers that dogs of interest are walked there.
“The tags have been removed but please take care.”
Similar tags, in greater numbers, have been found on the gate to Roundshaw Downs, the site of the former Croydon Airport and a popular place for dog walkers.
Dog theft is a growing issue, with rapidly rising numbers of reported thefts since the start of lockdown a year ago.
Meanwhile the police have linked it with organised crime gangs whose usual areas of operation involve drug dealing, armed robbery and modern slavery.
DogLost, a charity helping dog theft victims, say that they dealt with 465 cases last year, up from 172 in 2019. Some liken the trauma suffered through the sudden disappearance of a much-loved pet to losing a family member.
Campaigners say those who are convicted of dog theft often only receive a fine. In any case, according to the Pet Theft Reform campaign, only 1 per cent of dog theft crimes have led to prosecution.
Last September, hundreds of officers took part in Operation Medusa, one of the biggest Met Police sting operations, when they raided an address in Star Lane, Orpington.
Seven arrests were made for offences including possession with intent to supply drugs, handling stolen goods and burglary.
The police were acting on information regarding crime gangs and were looking for guns, drugs and related evidence.
But they also found 17 dogs, all of them stolen from around south London.
Groups such as the Stolen and Missing Pets Alliance are now calling for pet theft to be made a specific criminal and imprisonable offence.
It is reckoned that about half of stolen dogs are taken from people’s gardens.
To reduce the risk of dog theft, some owners are putting up higher fences, fitting their dog’s collar with a GPS tracker or using a steel-cored dog lead, to make it harder for thieves to cut the lead.
But as one campaigner told The Guardian this week, “This is a high-profit, no-risk crime. Very few cases ever reach any kind of prosecution.
“Police forces would take it more seriously if it was a higher offence. But a lot of cases are not reported as theft – they just presume the dog has escaped and without proof it has been stolen it won’t be investigated.”
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