The doggy drama of Daniel Sturridge and his stolen Pomeranian Lucci had a happy ending when they were reunited.
But the story will have unsettled many other pet owners – as will news that dog thefts are up for the fourth year in a row, with five dogs now stolen EVERY DAY.
And unlike former Liverpool striker Daniel, not everyone can offer a £30,000 reward for their pet’s return – which is why increasing numbers are hiring pet detectives such as Colin Butcher to find missing mutts.
A former police detective inspector, he specialises in recovering lost and stolen pets and says: “The type of breeds stolen used to be driven by films and TV but now it’s Instagram.
“When registered breeders can’t meet the demand for a particular type, thieves step in to fill the gap.”
One recent client, Barbara Barnwell, was blackmailed by a thief who had stolen her dog, Dexter. The year-old shih tzu had escaped from boarding kennels while Barbara was on holiday and had been taken by the opportunist thief in Langport, Somerset.
Colin says: “She was called up and told to pay £600 or they would hurt her dog. She was afraid and went ahead with it.”
After transferring the money to a bank account, Barbara waited near a supermarket car park as agreed – but the thief did not show up.
Colin says: “She just got fleeced. She was in bits because not only had she lost the money, she still didn’t have her dog.”
However, he and his team were able to gather witness reports of Dexter’s escape and identify who the thief was most likely to be.
The team kept up the pressure and when the thief was tipped off that they were about to move in to take the dog back, Dexter was mysteriously dumped in a local field.
Colin says: “He knew we knew who he was, and rather than us turn up and call the police, he just offloaded the dog.
Luckily someone found him in the field and recognised him from our adverts, so we were able to reunite Barbara and Dexter.”
Barbara says: “He was missing for three and a half weeks – and it was three and a half weeks of hell. He had lost a lot of weight and had developed a few skin conditions, I think from the stress.
He’s also a bit anxious now but is on the mend. I’m just so happy to have him home.”
Currently the most stolen breed Colin is asked to find are French bulldogs – and The Sun joined him on the hunt for one such puppy.
Owner Anuja Pradhan shows us a heartbreaking online picture of a dog she believes to be her Frenchie puppy Sky, which shows its eyes wide with fear. Her five- month-old pet had been stolen from a park just a few days earlier after escaping from Anuja’s home in Hounslow, West London.
She says: “I’ve been searching websites every day, checking the for-sale adverts, and as soon as I saw the photo I just knew it was her.”
Sky was being advertised on shpock. com for £3,000 – double the £1,500 her owner paid for her.
Anuja, 29, assistant manager for a healthcare company, says: “It’s heartbreaking because you can tell she’s scared. You can see it in her eyes.
“At first I was really happy when I saw the advert because at least I knew she was still alive, but then I thought, ‘How am I going to get her back?’” So Anuja decided to pose as a potential buyer and arranged to meet the seller in a local car park.
When she and boyfriend Sean Patterson arrived, they called the police.
But although a man was arrested, he has since been released without charge – so Anuja enlisted Colin, who quit the police in 2002 and now runs United Kingdom Pet Detectives.
He charges £380 for four hours’ work, or £750 a day, and says he receives up 40 enquiries a week – getting back nine out of ten dogs.
His workload is perhaps not surprising, as dog-napping cases were up four per cent last year to 1,959. Anuja is close to tears as she tells us she had only had Sky – a birthday gift from Sean – for a couple of months.
After getting all the facts of the case, Colin returns to the scene of the crime – Inwood Park, near Anuja’s home – with his four-year-old cocker spaniel Molly, and chats to other dog walkers to see if there are any potential witnesses.
Rescue dog Molly, who features in Colin’s new book Molly & Me: The Ultimate Pet Detective Duo, spent a year having scent-recognition training with the charity Medical Detection Dogs. She is now the UK’s only cat detection dog, and an expert in finding missing moggies.
Colin says: “She hasn’t been trained to find dogs. It’s also difficult to use search dogs with thefts because they are rarely kept locally, once stolen.” And that may help to explain why to date, Anuja and Sky have still not been reunited.
But Molly still comes in useful on his next job. Another French bulldog, Frank, has been missing for almost a month and his owner Stefan Cappella fears he may have been stolen.
Stefan, 31, who owns a trampoline park, and his fiancée Victoria Williams, 29, who runs a yoga studio, bought Frank as a puppy for £1,500 and are offering a £10,000 reward for his safe return.
Stefan says: “It’s a huge amount to us, but we’d rather forgo holidays and never go out if it means having him back. He isn’t just a dog to us, he’s a member of our family.”
Colin, who worked as a Surrey Police CID officer for 15 years, treats every missing animal case as if he were running a police investigation.
Frank disappeared from Stefan’s parents’ back garden when the couple went over for dinner, so Colin’s “on-site assessment” starts with a thorough search of the garden.
He uses Molly to gauge potential escape routes for Frank before asking Stefan to take him on a tour of the area surrounding the family home in Reigate, Surrey. Next, he inspects CCTV footage from the time Frank went missing. At this stage, Colin is keeping an open mind about Frank’s disappearance. But one theory is that the dog could have been snatched after being spotted by a passer-by. With Molly’s help, Colin demonstrates how a dog her size could potentially fit under the garden gate, telling Stefan:
“Someone could have driven up the lane, seen Frank, grabbed him and be gone in seconds. It can happen that quickly.”
Colin says the key to cracking a case is to work out what type of thief he is dealing with. If Frank was taken from under the gate, it is what he calls an “opportunist” thief. He says: “They’re street thieves who are always looking for something to steal and will take any opportunity to make some cash. They’ll try to convert what they’ve stolen into cash as quick as possible.”
Sadly, to date, Stefan and Victoria are still without their beloved Frank. But one of Colin’s biggest success stories made headlines around the world.
His expertise was sought when Wilma the schnauzer went missing from owner Richard Guttfield’s home in Marsworth, Bucks, last year. It was discovered that the £800 puppy had disappeared at about the same time as an Amazon parcel was delivered.
Colin encouraged the family to contact Amazon boss Jeff Bezos in America, who intervened and ordered staff to track down the driver, Levi Pislea, and Wilma was later found at an address in North London. Pislea was later convicted of theft and sentenced to a 12-month community order.
“There’s certainly no shortage of dog thefts in this country,” says Colin gravely as he prepares to head to his next job – but not before Molly has a much-needed scratch. Rolling his eyes, Colin jokes: “It’s like working with Gywneth Paltrow – ‘You can all wait’.
Top four stolen dog breeds
1. Staffordshire bull terrier
Staffordshire Bull Terriers have consistently been one of the most popular choices of terriers and for good reason. They are renowned for the kind natures when they are around people in a family environment even though they were originally bred to be fighting dogs. Staffies have also become one of the most popular dogs in the show ring and luckily, this has not affected their traditional strong, rugged, muscular and much-loved looks. As a tribute to their ancestry, Staffies are shown wearing broad leather collars with brass emblems on them which depict Staffordshire knots.
Staffies are fun to have around and although boisterous by nature, through correct breeding, handling and training these small to medium sized dogs develop into lovely characters that boast big personalities. Staffies like nothing more than a warm lap to curl up on and an owner they can look up to for all the direction and guidance they need with loyalty and devotion. Despite the breed’s early origins, Staffordshire Bull Terriers is renowned for being a lovely and loyal family pet as well as a trustworthy companion.
2. Trendy crossbreeds (labradoodles/puggles)
The Labradoodle is the result of crossing a Labrador Retriever with either a Standard or Miniature Poodle and they first appeared on the scene back in the mid-1950’s. They are high energy dogs with some of them having low shedding coats. As such they are often seen being used as assistance dogs for people who suffer from allergies. Labradoodles have become one of the most popular recent designer cross breeds to have appeared on the scene and for good reason because not only are they adorable looking, but they are intelligent charming dogs that are a pleasure to have around too.
Labradoodles should not be described as “designer dogs” because they have been around for a long time and therefore they have become well-established in the world of working dogs having been bred to have a biddable nature. They should be thought of as a “cross breed” and one that has made their mark on the world and today the Labradoodle is among one of the most popular breeds in the UK.
The Puggle is a relative newcomer to the dog world and since they first appeared on the scene these little dogs have become one of the most popular crossbreeds around. They are a cross between a Beagle and a Pug and were bred in America during the eighties when they joined the list of other “designer or hybrid” dogs that have appeared on the scene over recent years.
Puppies can inherit the characteristics of either the Pug or the Beagle, but they can be a combination of both too. Pugs are typically used as sires with the Beagle being the dam thanks to her being that much larger than her Pug counterpart which ensures an easier birth.
They have become popular over recent times thanks to the fact they’ve inherited many of their parent breeds physical traits which includes the endearing looks of both the Pug and the Beagle. This together with their mischievous natures has seen Puggles find their way into the hearts and homes of people the world over. They are not yet recognised by international breed clubs which includes The Kennel Club, but many Puggle breed clubs have been set up both here in the UK and elsewhere in the world with an end goal being to breed healthy dogs.
Over the years Chihuahuas have found their way into the hearts and homes of many people around the world. The breed hails from Mexico where they have always been highly prized for their cuteness, their intelligence and the fact these tiny characters think they are bigger than they really are. One thing a Chihuahua is not, and that is purely a lapdog. Bursting with energy and character, these little dogs are great fun to share a home with. They are fiercely courageous and will stand their ground no matter what. They are also loyal and affectionate characters liking nothing more than to spend as much time with their owners as they possible can which means Chihuahuas do not tolerate being left on their own for any great length of time.
4. French bulldog
Related to both the American Bulldog and English Bulldog, the French Bulldog is smaller in size and is an exceptionally playful and good-natured character that easily adapts to different lifestyles and home environments making them one of the most popular companion dogs not only in the UK, but elsewhere in the world too. Frenchies crave lots of attention and like nothing more than to spend time with their owners. One of their most endearing traits is their willingness to please and although they can be stubborn, when carefully handled Frenchies can be taught to do some amazing things.
French Bulldogs are known to be the clowns of the dog world, but they are quite intelligent with a mischievous and playful streak in them. They may become a little possessive and protective of owners and will occasionally need a gentle reminder about who is the alpha dog in a household. They are generally very good around children, although it is best to always supervise any encounters kids have with Frenchies, much the same as with any other breed of dog.
(Article source: Various)