Pet theft has been on the rise since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic as more Britons than ever looked to furry friends to help them through the long lockdown months. Dog thefts in particular have been rife over the past couple of years, with criminals snatching pups and selling them for a premium to unsuspecting pet owners.
To combat the rise in pet-related crime, police services in the UK are exploring new ways to crack down on thieves.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) is looking into how DNA analysis can be used to tackle dog thefts as part of a new crime prevention initiative.
The forces is now working with a DNA specialist to investigate criminal cases involving the theft of dogs.
PSNI has teamed up with DNP protected to provide forensic analysis that can help pet owners track down their pooches.
DNA sampling kits provide pet owners with a swab that they can use to swab their dog’s mouth.
The kit is then returned to the police to be tested.
Once the dog’s DNA is tested its profile is stored on a database, which makes it easily accessible for the police to help reunite a missing dog with its owner.
A representative for PSNI told Belfast Live that the method would give dog owners fresh hope that they would be reunited with their pooch if it was ever stolen.
Superintendent Brian Kee, PSNI lead for Rural and Wildlife Crime, said: “Of course, we have been proactively working with a number of partners over recent years, but this will add a new dimension in terms of reuniting lost or stolen dogs with their owners.
“Two important aspects in protecting pet dogs are awareness-raising and crime prevention, and DNA protection being one of many precautions available to owners.
“It is important that we equip owners with crime prevention deterrents so they can protect their pets.
“Dog theft can have a massive impact on the owners and their families and we are committed to doing all that we can to prevent dog thefts from happening.”
DNA Protected is run by Cellmark Forensic Services. A spokesperson for the company said: “With dog theft unfortunately on the rise, DNA Protected has been developed to deter thieves, provide families with peace of mind and to help collar the criminals.
“The Forensic Dog DNA database could play an important role in ensuring that a dog is safely returned if stolen, but we also want to help make sure that the individuals responsible are brought to justice.
“Cellmark has provided forensic DNA profiling services to UK police forces for more than 30 years and we assist with the forensic investigation of hundreds of crimes every week.
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“The process doesn’t just stop when the Forensic Dog DNA Database contributes towards a dog’s safe return – we have the expertise and experience to help the police successfully prosecute the people responsible.
“Dogs’ DNA is unique and cannot be changed. It is nature’s ultimate identification system. Unlike a microchip which might be lost, might not work or could even be removed, DNA will identify your dog for life.”
The company send DNA kits by post to owners with instructions on how to swab their pet’s mouth and return the swab for processing.
The sample is then returned and the dog’s DNA is processed. This generates a DNA profile which is added to the Forensic Dog DNA Database.
A spokesperson explained: “Dogs’ DNA is made up of about two and a half billion letters of genetic code.
“Although the vast majority of the genetic code is the same for every dog, we target 18 DNA sections where there are differences to produce a DNA profile that can tell your dog apart with excellent discrimination.
“Storing your dog’s DNA profile on Cellmark’s database makes it accessible to the police and means that if the worst were to happen and your dog were to be lost or stolen, it could help ensure that he or she is safely returned.”
Dog thefts soared to a seven-year high last year as demand for puppies shot up during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Criminals monopolised on the trend by snatching pups and selling them to prospective pet owners.
Eight dogs were stolen from heartbroken owners every day in the UK in 2021.
The dog theft capital was London, where the Met Police reported 422 dogs as stolen, followed by 199 in West Yorkshire and 182 in Kent.
French bulldogs and Jack Russell terriers were the most popular breeds targeted by crooks. According to new research released by Direct Pet Line this week.
The research showed that the number of dogs stolen surged by 13 per cent in 2021 to a record high of 2760.
This was a rise of 321 from 2020 and 611 more than in 2019, with 53 dogs stolen every week in the UK last year.
The sky-rocketing rate of theft coincides with a surge in dog ownership partly attributed to the pandemic.
A whopping 3.8 million Britons became pet owners in 2021, forcing prices up and making pups more lucrative to criminals.