DOG thefts are rife in Bolton as criminals target beloved pets to make money from sales as their values have rocketed since the start of the pandemic.

The crime is devastating families across the UK with crooks entering homes and gardens to steal their animals.

And the problem has affected an increasing number of households in the borough.

North west area co-ordinator for rescue charity DogLost, Shelley Page, who is based in Radcliffe, said: "People are pulling up at the side of houses and going into gardens and taking dogs.

"This might happen when owners are just letting them go into the garden for a wee.

"I think people are being watched and houses are being broken into.

"Dogs left in cars are being stolen too.

"Criminals are making lots of money out of this as the value of dogs have gone up so much since the pandemic, they can costs thousands.

"They are also making money from breeding them.

"Even with dogs going missing, some people are just selling the dogs rather than reporting them.

"You also can't tie dogs up outside shops anymore."

The thefts of dogs causes much upset among owners as Shelley is well aware of.

She said: "All owners are distraught when their dogs are stolen, they are like their children and are absolutely devastated when it happens.

"We tell owners to be careful and not let them out of sight.

"They need to make sure they are chipped and have collars that are up-to-date."

Janet is also calling for stronger punishments for those caught stealing dogs.

She added: "I think there needs to be tougher sentences, we need to come down on them.

"We need government to bring in tougher sentencing."

Nationally, DogLost has seen reports of dog thefts rise by 170 per cent in the last year from 172 dogs in 2019 to 465 in 2020.

Policing Minister Kit Malthouse said: “Losing a much-loved family pet can cause great distress and it’s a sad fact that criminals will seek to profit by this vile crime.

“We are taking action to cut crime by bolstering the police with 20,000 extra officers and our £20m Safer Streets Fund will provide Police and Crime Commissioners with additional cash to spend on crimes such as theft.

“Let me be clear – pet theft is a criminal offence with a maximum penalty of seven years’ imprisonment and it must be confronted wherever it occurs.”