Countryside criminals are increasingly preying on valuable gundogs for financial gain, with West Yorkshire identified as a hotspot for dog thefts.
A total of 123 dogs were reported stolen in West Yorkshire last year, according to police figures, placing it in the country’s top three hot spots for dog thefts behind Kent at 128 and London with 165.
And in rural areas, it is gundogs - used to retrieve game - that are often the target of organised criminals. Stolen pets advice service DogLost said gundog thefts have been steadily rising since 2009 and particularly sharpely over the last 18 months. As specially trained animals they fetch a premium and are often stolen for breeding.
The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) is warning landowners in West Yorkshire in particular to take heed, in light of the theft figures obtained from police forces across England and Wales by Shooting Times magazine.
Douglas Chalmers, the CLA’s director of policy and public affairs in the North, said he expectx dog thefts will rise because the animals can often be sold quickly and are not easily traced.
“Dogs are targeted by thieves because they can easily make money selling them on, often for breeding or, most distressingly, for fighting,” he said.
In the first three months of 2014, dogs registered as missing included 160 labradors, 97 cocker spaniels, and 80 springer spaniels.
Animal charity Pet Theft Awareness believes criminals are targeting dogs for other reasons and has called for stronger penalties for those found guilty of the offence.
Arnot Wilson, the charity’s co-founder, said: “We believe that there could be an increase in dog theft because of the tightening up of the disposal of scarp metal.
“As an organisation we are seeking tougher penalties to deter dog theft and these are to include custodial sentences and the stealing of dogs to be prioritised over the theft of an inanimate object. At present there is no deterrent.”
Earlier this week, The Yorkshire Post reported how the cost of rural crime in the region rose by six per cent to £3.6m in 2013, according to a survey by insurer NFU Mutual, feeding fears that rural areas are increasingly targeted by criminals.
Over the same period, DogLost recorded a year-on-year increase in dog thefts of around 15 per cent and reported that half of all those stolen were gundogs.
Nik Oatley, a spokesperson for the organisation, said: “Farmers and landowners invest an enormous amount of time and money to train gundogs and for many of these people their dogs are also very much family pets so for them to suddenly be taken is awful. On many occasions it is not just one dog that is stolen but whole litters of puppies.
“It is clear that these criminals are scoping out premises looking for opportunities.”
With the Glorious Twelfth signalling the start of the new shooting season this week, the CLA said dog owners should try to limit the risk of their animals being targeted by thieves by ensuring their animals are microchipped and wear a collar and identification tag with full contact details.
Mr Chalmers said: “The Government is bringing in compulsory microchipping for all dogs from April 2016 but we would recommend that owners act sooner rather than later.
“Gundog owners should always be aware of where their animal is while they are on a shoot and make sure it is never out of the sight of guns, beaters or pickers-up.”
Dog thefts are less of a problem in other parts of the county, the police data showed. North Yorkshire was the only other part of the region that featured on the list of counties where dogs were stolen in 2013 - a total of 20 thefts were recorded by the police.