Devon and Cornwall are among the most likely places for dogs to get stolen, according to an investigation – and staffies are the most at-risk breed.
Figures from police forces across England and Wales show dogs in London, Kent and West Yorkshire are most prone to being stolen, with 165, 128 and 123 thefts last year, respectively.
But those living within the Devon and Cornwall force area are also at a higher-than-average risk, with 49 dogs reported stolen – the ninth highest in the league.
In total, 1,468 dogs were reported missing last year, according to the 23 forces who replied to a Freedom of Information Act request. Avon and Somerset had 41, placing it 12th on the list, while just nine thefts were reported in Dorset, making it the third-safest of the 23 force areas, below Nottinghamshire and North Wales.
The figures, obtained by the ShootingUK website, also revealed that Staffordshire bull terriers are more likely to be stolen than any other breed, while border collies and cocker spaniels are also popular with thieves. Some 224 Staffies were snatched, while 80 border collies and 54 cocker spaniels were also taken.
Other breeds popular with thieves included Jack Russells (46 thefts last year), Chihuahuas (43) and lurchers (32).
The top ten most desirable breeds for thieves was completed by Labradors (30 thefts), British bulldogs (26), and Japanese Akitas and Yorkshire terriers (both 23).
The data showed 165 of the thefts took place in the London Metropolitan area, with 128 in Kent and 123 in West Yorkshire. There were 77 thefts in Lancashire and 64 in the Thames Valley. Hampshire saw 55, while Staffordshire reported 51, South Yorkshire 50 and Durham 49, level with Devon and Cornwall.
The website said most dogs are stolen from gardens. And just 5% of reported thefts led to prosecutions last year.
Neil Parish, Conservative MP for Tiverton and Honiton and chairman of the Associate Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare, said: “Dog theft is a serious issue; it’s like having a family member taken and can cause huge distress for owners.
“However, what is so concerning is that nearly half of the thefts are from the home, where the thieves are going into gardens and front yards to take the dog.
“Because this is trespass as well as theft – and then often ransom too – there need to be greater penalties and a lot more police work done to catch these criminals and prosecute them.
“Stealing a dog is not like stealing an inanimate television or mobile phone – they are not chattels but living creatures and I feel the severity of it must be recognised.”
Breeders say there has been a sudden rise in demand for black cocker spaniels since Prince William and Kate Middleton got their pet Lupo in 2012, with a similar surge in incidents of the breed being stolen.
Pauline Reed, of Kevelek Gundogs, near St Austell, said: “Dog theft is a big problem and is escalating. Not only are dogs being stolen for money but also for breeding and even as bait for dog fighting. There are very well-organised gangs out there.”