Today, Tuesday 14 March, is Dog Theft Awareness Day. In the UK, incidences of dog theft have risen by 24% in the last three years alone - it's a low-risk, highly profitable crime, and one that devastates families, ripping them apart.
Today, MPs will gather at Portcullis House in Westminster to discuss this growing trend. The event will be hosted by Gareth Johnson MP, who has been campaigning for greater recognition of this offence for years; his constituency is in Kent, a county with one of the highest rates of dog theft in the UK.
We need to make stealing a dog more legally significant than stealing an object. Until that happens, here's our top tips for avoiding becoming a victim, and losing your best friend.
1) Walk with care
Doing the same loop around your house every morning at the same time? Someone could be watching you, and the dog you have with you. Make it trickier for thieves, and don't always be in the same place at the same. This makes it harder for a planned abduction.
Dog owners are forever being approached by new people who are curious about their dogs and want to have a chat - a dog is a great ice-breaker! Most of these conversations are totally innocent, but if you feel concerned and think someone is trying to suss out information about your pet, it's OK to lie. Say your dog is old, ill, and neutered!
2) Know your risk
Some breeds are a much more valued target than others. Small, fashionable breeds such as Pugs and Frenchies can command the highest re-sale value. It's incredibly easy for thieves to sell these breeds individually, pretending the dog is their own pet and making up a credible story in an online advert.
Likewise, working gundogs such as Cocker Spaniels and Springer Spaniels are prized for their high level of training, ability to produce valuable litters of puppies, and the likelihood they will be left unattended in an outdoor kennel. As many as 50% of all dog thefts involve a working gundog being snatched.
3) Guard in the garden
The vast majority of dog thefts occur when a dog is left unattended in its own garden. Secure your fencing, secure your gates, and don't leave your dog outside for long - and never if you are leaving your property entirely. Private CCTV is an option too; its becoming more commonplace, and could provide vital information in an incident about an individual and the vehicle used.
4) Stay up-to-date
A microchip gives you the very best chance of being reunited with your pet. Wherever they may end up in the country, a chip will always carry your details over the many miles. Keep this information updated; not only is this a legal requirement, it's common sense!
5) Get tagging
Likewise, a tag is a legal requirement of any dog owner - a dog must be wearing an ID tag in a public place, bearing the name and address of its family. A telephone number is optional, but encouraged! However, refrain from putting your dog's own name on the tag. A thief who knows your dog's name has an advantage; it makes it easier to gain your dog's trust.
6) Stay together in public
Never leave your dog tied up alone outside a shop, or alone in your car, even if you are only going to be a few minutes. It doesn't take long at all for an opportunist to strike, and you'd never forgive yourself for putting your dog in that vulnerable position. Leave your dog at home, safe behind locked doors and out of sight.
7) Perfect the recall
The joy of an off-lead run for most dogs simply cannot be matched - but it gives thieves a window of opportunity. You need to be able to call your dog away from danger. If a stranger whistles, with a kind voice and the promise of a treat, you need to be able to intervene.
9) Get snapping
Make sure you have excellent photographs of your dog from all angles - a clear close-up of the face, and a full shot of the body, as well as some of any distinguishing marks that set your dog apart, such as a smudge on the toe, or a patch on the side. These pictures will be vital to a campaign should your dog be taken. Save them in several places to keep them safe.
10) Have an action plan
If the worst is to happen and your dog goes missing, have a plan in place of what you will do next. The first 48 hours are crucial. Contact DogLost, the UK's largest lost and found dog service, to register your dog. Contact the police and your local dog warden. Get on social media and start spreading your dog's details and pictures - the idea is to make your dog 'too hot to handle', so that any potential buyers will be warned, and local people will keep an eye out.