THE increase in dog thefts in Bolton and across the country is a major concern as criminals prey on owners’ beloved pets.

North west volunteer police liaison officer for charity DogLost, Claire Gresty, from Bolton, said the number of reported thefts have risen rapidly in the last year.

After the lockdown was introduced in March 2020, the values of dogs rocketed and criminals have targeted them by stealing the animals and selling them online.

Some dogs have been kept in poor conditions and others have been used for breeding.

Claire said: “I have volunteered for DogLost for 10 years and in the last couple of years the number of thefts has been really bad, especially in the last 12 months. It is horrendous.

“It is getting serious and people are getting attacked for their dogs. Some people are also being held to ransom and have to pay money to get their dogs back.

“It is awful for the owners. A lot of them do not know where their dogs have been taken and what has happened to them.

"There are people who are also calling owners of dogs who have reported them missing and demanding money when they don't even have them.

"I think their should be strong punishments for these crimes.”

A warning poster

A warning poster

Claire warned owners need to be more vigilant too.

She added: “Sometimes when I go shopping I see dogs in a car on their own and someone might try to break in and take them.

"People think something like that won’t happen to them but it does.”

The volunteer also advised owners to make sure they get their dogs neutered to stop criminals from using them for breeding.

And she has warned buyers to make sure they buy dogs from reputable avenues, such as breeders with good recommendations and rescue centres.

Crooks are known to advertise stolen dogs on buy and sell websites and meet customers at locations such as service stations, which should ring alarm bells.