An FOI investigation by Peterborough Matters has revealed that in the past three years 62 animals have been taken in the Peterborough area, through burglary, theft and even robbery.
Unsurprisingly dogs are the most popular target, with Jack Russells, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, Chihuahuas and German Shepherds among the breeds taken.
Other animals to be reported stolen since January 2017 include cats, poultry, horses, and even a hamster and sheep.
The thieves have taken animals from across the city in that time, with the first reported theft coming in Orton Northgate when two dogs were taken.
Poultry is a common target with five aseel chickens being taken at once in one burglary in September 2019.
The sheep was taken in Pilsgate in December 2017, while the hamster was taken in July 2017.
One one occasion in Hampton Vale in April 2017 two horses were stolen at once; a 13-year-old dark bay and a 5-year-old chestnut mare trotter cross.
Sadly, only one incident led to a charge/summons from the entire list, while the rest were either dropped because no suspect was identified or due to 'evidential difficulties'.
However a police spokesperson said that there is often a background to animal thefts.
She said: "Often thefts involving pets are the result of domestic disputes between families or following the break-up of a relationship, rather than being stolen by an unknown third party.
"Although every crime is important to us we must prioritise the most serious offences such as child abuse, child exploitation, domestic abuse, burglary and serious sexual offences.
"Our focus is on safeguarding the most vulnerable, supporting victims of crime and robustly investigating and bringing offenders to justice.
"Officers exhaust all viable lines of enquiry before a case is filed and in instances where opportunities such as forensics, CCTV and witness opportunities are available, we will investigate.
"When demand for our services are high, we have to make some difficult decisions and although we take all reports of crime seriously, we have to assess whether there is a realistic chance of achieving a prosecution.
"Like anything of value, people are advised to ensure they take precautions to deter thieves and protect their pets. If an animal, like a dog, is being left in a back garden, ensure the gate is locked and there are no places where the animal could escape or be pulled through. All dogs must now be microchipped by law and it’s recommended that other pets are too.
"If you have lost or have found an animal or pet, please contact your local council, animal rescue centre or vet. If you believe your pet has been stolen, report the theft to the police."
An RSPCA spokesperson said: “It’s heartbreaking for people when the pets they love like members of their family are stolen.
"Putting in place a few measures can help prevent your pet from being stolen or becoming a target. Ensuring pets are wearing collars with up-to-date ID tags and having them microchipped can help in the battle against pet-thiefs."
Tips to keep your dogs safe from theft:
- Don't leave your dog outside a shop on his own or in a car alone.
- Teach your dog a reliable recall for when you are out walking.
- Check your garden to make sure it is secure and if you have a gate then fit it with a lock.
- Neuter your pet as this can reduce the likelihood of roaming.
- Make sure your pet is wearing a collar with an ID tag and that it is up to date. It is a legal requirement for a dog to have an ID tag with your name and address on it. The RSPCA also recommends including your mobile phone number on any ID tag as this can help reunite you with your pet quickly should he ever get lost or stolen.
- Microchip your pet and keep the details up to date so that if your pet does go missing or is stolen then there is a higher chance they can be reunited. It is a legal requirement to have your dog microchipped in England and Wales.
- Keep recent photographs of your pet and make a note of any distinguishing features.
Specific advice - dogs/cats
- Neuter your pet to reduce likelihood of roaming
- Microchip your pet and ensure contact details are up-to-date
- Ensure your pet is wearing collar with ID tag (cat collars should be quick-release to prevent injury)
- Microchip your horse and ensure contact details are up-to-date
- Keep recent photographs of your pet and make a note of any distinguishing features
- Have them fitted with an identification ring
- Small furries (rabbits/guinea pigs/ferrets etc)
- Small microchips are available for smaller animals such as rabbits and ferrets
- Ensure accommodation is safe and secure
If the worst does happen, the RSPCA suggests the following steps should be taken as soon as possible in order to have the best chance of owners being reunited with their pets:
- Check your home and local area thoroughly.
- If the animal is definitely missing, register them with a company such as Petslocated, Dog Lost or the National Pets register.
- If you suspect your animal may have been stolen, please contact the police.
- Call your microchip company so they can flag your pet as missing. This will also alert to them anyone trying to re-register the same microchip number.
- Call your local RSPCA, and other animal welfare organisations.
- Contact your local vets.
- Talk to neighbours, postman, milkman etc, as they may have seen the animal or observed something suspicious at the time they went missing.
- Put flyers on notice boards and through letter boxes.
One group that knows all about losing their pets - through accident or deliberate action - is the Peterborough's Lost Pets Facebook group.
The group was set up almost five years ago and has grown to more than 6,300 members, with a mission to work "to reunite owners with their lost pets through social network and linking with charities and veterinary practices in Peterborough. Educating owners to prevent their pets from going missing."
The site works with the local council and charities to help reunite even more pets, and pushed for the introducing of deceased pets being picked up by the council and being scanned. There are also two 24 hour drop-off points for dogs when the Peterborough Dog Warden is off duty.
Quotes from members who have lost their pets are harrowing:
- “One sentence I shall say - it has torn my heart in two”
- “We lost our lovely girl Jen back in 2007, we only moved a mile from our previous house, and she used to follow us to the pub near our new house so knew the area. It was like she vanished into air. I think not knowing is the worst. I still think of her now and wonder what happened.”
- “My cat was stolen by a neighbour when they moved out. It feels like your heart is ripped out. He wasn’t just a pet he was a family member."
- “My daughter had a young cat barely over a year old. She would be out all day but always waiting at the kitchen window for our return. One day she wasn't there, my daughter refused to sleep and kept calling it was like she just vanished. Nobody had seen her. It's been a year and my daughter still miss sharing her bed with the kitten. She's micro chipped and every time I see a post that looks like her I pray a little in hope”
A spokesperson said: "We can’t stress the importance of microchipping your pets. Cats especially can get in a vehicle and end up anywhere in the UK.
"With the power of the microchip, we have had our members reunited with cats who were found in Chester, Leeds and Sunderland. The law changed in 2016 that all dogs need to be microchipped by law. We are championing the work by Animals Lost and Found in Kent and Rehman Chishti to bring in compulsory microchipping for cats too.
"With cats, they are usually unintentionally stolen, by people that believe they are helping the cat. The prime example is that a cat visits a house daily and the finder assumes that the cat has been abandoned and takes it in without trying a paper collar or getting the cat checked for a chip.
"Before picking a cat up off the street, please consider how you might feel if someone picked up your cat when he was simply doing his daily stroll around the neighbourhood. Cats have a legal right to roam so will always wander into gardens and even homes, wherever they can get a second meal.
"I would urge anyone who is desperate enough to steal a pet to think about their actions. Pets are not household objects - they are family.
"The stress upset and devastation that it causes to the pet and family is heart-breaking. If you find a pet it is not finders keepers, you are legally obliged to make reasonable effort to find the owner.
"We STRONGLY suggest that any finder establishes proof of ownership, before handing over a pet."
For more information on the group go to www.peterboroughslostpets.co.uk