Emotions among dog owners ran high following confirmation that police were investigating an attempted dog theft in Pickering last week in which the animal's owner suffered minor injuries.
Many of those commenting on social media expressed fear and even panic over their pets' safety and suggested they would consider carrying weapons with them on dog walks to defend themselves against thieves.
Yet in recent months there have been fewer than five officially reported thefts or attempted thefts in North Yorkshire, with many other 'reports' posted on Facebook believed to be unsubstantiated rumours or simple misunderstandings.
A small number of incidents in which thieves posed as animal charity workers to gain access to properties in Dorset and Scotland has also fuelled disproportionate levels of intimidating behaviour towards and suspicion of genuine RSPCA inspectors.
A spokesperson for North Yorkshire Police said: “We want to reassure members of the public that the incident which occurred near Pickering last week appears to have been an isolated one, and dog thefts in North Yorkshire are very rare.
“We understand that news of thefts can be worrying for dog owners, but please be reassured that North Yorkshire is not suffering from a spate of dog thefts. Please try not to engage in social media speculation about these incidents as information can often be skewed and if you wish to report a crime or any suspicious activity, please call the police.
“We are aware of social media comments regarding carrying weapons whilst dog walking and would remind communities that you must not carry weapons on our streets. Not only do you run the risk of seriously injuring yourself or others but it is against the law.”
The force has also warned dog owners not to post images or details on social media which could identify them to potential thieves, including home addresses and regular walking routes.
Microchipping is recommended so that a stolen or lost dog can be traced to its rightful owner if taken to a vet.
The most recent high-profile dog theft in Yorkshire was that of three springer spaniels taken from secure kennels at a property in the village of Thornholme, between Driffield and Bridlington, in February. The incident took place in the Humberside Police force area, but two of the dogs were later found abandoned in Lancashire, with one being traced via its microchip. The third and youngest dog remains missing.