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Puppy Mafia: Dognappers take advantage of UK demand for pandemic pets

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Britain is in the middle of a huge wave of doping crime. This is extremely troubling in this nation of animal lovers, yet another emotional whip into a strange and terrible year.

The humane societies and rescue organizations in Britain say they have never seen anything like it. Animal welfare officers – actually animal detectives – blame the pandemic. The demand for dogs is massive, but there are so few available for sale or adoption. So crime bosses are now puppy brokers.

In the United States, the most famous case involved Lady Gaga’s French bulldogs Koji and Gustav, who were stolen from their dog walker Ryan Fischer, who was shot and killed during the dog heist in West Hollywood.

In the UK, the problem has risen to the level of senior government officials. Home Secretary Priti Patel described the reported increase in pet thefts as “absolutely shocking”. Police Minister Kit Malthouse swore action, saying: “It is a sad fact that criminals will try to profit from this heinous crime.”

Parliament debates stricter laws after receiving two petitions with hundreds of thousands of signatures and is calling on the authorities to make dog theft a serious crime punishable by eight years in prison and fines of $ 7,500.

Currently, English law treats dogs as property, with the penalty being the value of the object. In practice, a dog’s worth is the same as a stolen microwave, television, or cell phone – a few hundred dollars or less. The petitioners want this to change to make the crime more similar to kidnapping a family member.

There is, of course, a certain hysteria in all of this, fueled by the tabloids and fueled by rumors about social media. Not every missing dog has been stolen by fiends.

But the British love their dogs – and their dogs are stolen.

“It’s the worst I’ve ever seen and I’ve been in the field for 35 years,” said Wayne May, police liaison officer for Dog Lost, the UK’s largest lost and found office.

According to May, the thefts reported to his organization are up 250 percent from the previous year.

“That’s over 400 cases, just in England, that were just reported to us,” he said. “This is not a dog that ran away. This is a reported case of theft. “

The investigators talk about the emergence of a new “puppy mafia”. They say some of the same human traffickers who normally deal with prostitution, drugs, and arms sales have turned to Labradoodles and ruthlessly took advantage of the skyrocketing demand.

“The cost of a puppy has increased significantly over the past year, making this market a lucrative market for organized criminals,” said Amanda Blakeman, director of the National Police Chiefs’ Council on Employed Crime.

The UK is only beginning to get out of its third national coronavirus lockdown, and the months of closed life under strict instructions to stay at home have left many people hungry for the (mostly) unconditional love of four-legged companions (who need it) long walks and eat).

A dog that would normally cost $ 500 is now $ 2,500 or more – if you can find one. Even rescue shelters have run out of mutts. An internet search for dogs available for adoption in the London area found few dogs here and there. Brits seeking companionship have started rescuing dogs from abroad.

“The prices for puppies have increased,” said Jacob Lloyd, senior investigator for animal welfare services. He described a new “wild west” of dog slinging and trading.

“I also blame society,” he said. “People don’t want to wait. They want a dog, and now they want a dog. “

And so organized criminals have stepped into the void.

Investigators describe an elaborate chain of crime, from opportunistic theft to puppy mills to seedy sales.

First, thieves target pets, especially fertile women. Most are stolen from cars, yards, shops and kennels.

May said a case in point could be a small breeder who advertises on the internet for puppies for sale at her home. A boy scout could take a look at the mother and pups, but locate the place to get in and out. and thieves return later.

May said he “did not want to be a fear monger” and stressed that it was “very rare” for a Dognapper to speak to an owner while walking a dog. But it happened.

Former amateur boxer James Cosens said he fought two kidnappers, one with a knife, who tried to catch his 20-week-old collie, Rosie.

Cosens told Wales Online: “To get away with it safely, the only thing I could do was get hit first, to try to have the element of surprise. The first punch I threw brought the man to the floor with Rosie, but he still had a tight grip on her so the argument fell to the ground. “

If thieves can escape with dogs, they tend to sell the males quickly. The females send them to illegal breeding farms that operate well outside of the Kennel Club’s norms. One such operation was discovered by police, who arrived on site with arrest warrants to look for weapons, not dogs.

James Perry, a lawyer prosecuting dognapping in UK courts, said police “had only just woken up to the importance of these cases”.

He pointed to recent raids on illegal kennels that housed up to 80 dogs, many of which were suspected of being stolen.

Perry said a litter of half a dozen pups could bring in 10,000 pounds (nearly $ 14,000).

He pointed out that a cell phone stolen from a house might only be worth a few dollars, but the right dog could fetch thousands in black and gray markets.

After a litter is born, the offspring are often sold through a sketchy sales team that works in parking lots and rental apartments. Sellers show kindhearted faces to encourage emotional buyers to pay thousands of pounds for breeds, designer mixes, or mutt.

“No papers, no shots, nothing, and they pay £ 3,000 [more than $4,000] in a parking lot for a sick puppy, ”said Lloyd of Animal Protection Services.

He noted that UK law requires puppies to be seen with their mothers first, microchipped and accompanied by papers from licensed operators. The chips can be removed by gross surgery, crimped with pliers, or deactivated using strong magnets.

Jon Gaunt is a gamekeeper on a pheasant hunting and riding arena in southern England. In May, thieves used hydraulic cutters to open his locks, entered his kennels and stole three of his Springer Spaniels.

Authorities later found one who was walking around freely. Gaunt suspects the dog was dumped. Another is still missing. But the third turned up during a police raid in September on a location occupied by travelers, sometimes referred to as Gypsies or Roma, where 46 dogs and puppies were found. Several arrests were made.

What people – and police and parliament – don’t seem to understand, Gaunt said, is that a litter of puppies is now worth a few pounds of cocaine. For their owners, however, the loss of a cherished pet is far more painful than replacing a stolen large-screen TV.

“They don’t steal your cell phone, they steal a family member,” Gaunt said. When a lowlife leans over your garden wall and picks up your dog, he added, “You take a lot more than just something.”