I own three dogs, whom I love dearly, and I class them as members of my family, just like many other households in the UK. On New Year's Eve I was out celebrating with family and came back home to find my front door wide open and all the lights switched on. The first thing I noticed was my loving French Bulldog Fleur was missing from her crate. My other two dogs were there, safe and sound, but poor Fleur had been taken. Other valuables had been taken too but all I cared about was my Fleur. My heart sunk; I physically felt sick not knowing where she was and if she was safe. I rang the police immediately to report the crime and started my search for her.
She was worth more than any of the valuables in our home...
I plastered my dog as stolen all over social media, and asked the public to help me share the information to make Fleur 'too hot to handle'. The police confirmed they highly suspect the break-in was specifically targeted at Fleur - her breed is worth a lot of money. She was worth more than any of the valuables in our home and the criminals clearly knew this.
The idea behind posting on social media was to get her to go viral and to warn anyone selling her on or buying her. I succeeded, with an overwhelming response of at least 180,000 shares on my personal profile. This did not include all the other organisations that made posters for me and shared Fleur through their own profiles. The celebrity Jodie Marsh even shared my posts.
Within 48 hours of the incident, I was reunited with Fleur through the power of social media. Somebody contacted me, saying they had seen her in a house where they had gone to buy a vacuum cleaner (which we found out later was in fact our stolen Hoover). The buyer at the time was under the impression it was simply a one-off secondhand item for sale. When they went to collect the Hoover, they noticed a brindle French Bulldog in the living room, fitting the same description of our Fleur. They had seen our stolen posters all over Facebook and recognised her, so immediately phoned us!
We got our Fleur back and were utterly overwhelmed with joy. We know we were so unbelievably lucky to have her home in the space of two days, as most cases can go on for month after heartbreaking month, or even remain a total mystery. The police were generally very good at dealing with our case. However, I strongly felt they did not take the fact a family member had been stolen seriously enough. I consider it to be kidnapping - it's taking a cherished living being from somebody's home.
Now I am trying to raise awareness of dog theft in the UK and how incidences are increasing. Luckily I had a strong connection of contacts when Fleur disappeared, as I work in a veterinary clinic. I knew what steps to take to have the best chance to be reunited with Fleur again, but others just wouldn't know what to do. DogLost UK were really amazing; Jayne Hayes, the lady who originally started the website, phoned me personally from Wales to talk about my experience and shared her own story with me, which inspired her to start up the organisation.
Dogs should not be treated like mobile phones or laptops when they are stolen.
I'm just so thankful to everyone who shared Fleur on social media and all the organisations that helped me get her back. I would hate this to happen to anyone else, but I know that sadly it will. Tougher sentencing is definitely needed; these criminals make a lot of money from stealing dogs, and cause immeasurable pain. Dogs should not be treated like mobile phones or laptops when they are stolen. They are loved family members, and mean the world to some people.
A suspect had been arrested for my case and we will find out if there is enough evidence for it to go to court very soon.
The Stolen And Missing Pets Alliance (SAMPA) is hosting a parliamentary event in Westminster on 14 March 2017, telling MPs why their support is vital in tackling the growing crime of dog theft. Whereas I have written to our local MP and invited him to join, he unfortunately has other commitments. So instead I'm doing as much as I can to raise awareness. Not enough people know about the prevalence of this crime; it's happening all to often.