Dog-owners warned after spate of thefts
"Dognapping" of pedigree dogs is turning into one of Ireland's biggest "low-value, high-volume" crimes, with 23 very valuable pets recorded as stolen or missing on one website alone this month.
Apart from the anguish caused to owners, there are also indications of severe cruelty being inflicted on the stolen animals. It is believed the bulk are being taken to "backyard" puppy farms.
The dogs stolen last month range from miniature Yorkshire terriers up to a pair of female rottweilers stolen in Limerick.
Of particular interest to the thieves appear to be husky-type dogs including an Alaskan malamute, which cost €700 as a pup, and miniatures that fetch from €300 upwards as pets.
With similar dogs and similar numbers reported stolen on the same LostandFound.ie site in June and in previous months over the past two years, owners and animal protection groups say there is a very well organised gang or gangs of people travelling around the country stealing expensive pedigree dogs.
Owners and the animal welfare groups also express concern at the numbers of Staffordshire or bull terriers going missing, which they fear might be used for dog fighting.
They also say there is a pattern where dogs go missing in particular counties or neighbourhoods at around the same time, making it appear that the gangs send spotters to these areas first to find houses where valuable dogs are kept.
Then the actual thieves come in the night and steal them in numbers. Most of the dogs reported missing disappeared at night time.
Kathleen Buckley, from Fairhill in Cork, was highly distressed last week when her American akita, Ice, was found two weeks after it disappeared, believed stolen from her home on August 14.
The dog was severely mal-nourished and had bad injuries to its ears, which the vet thought might have been caused by it trying to escape captivity, she said.
The thieves kicked down a neighbour's side gate and climbed into her back garden to get the dog.
"They're vermin, brutal vermin," she said. "I have never cried so much in my life. I cried when he was stolen and I cried when I saw the state he was in. He is a broken dog.
"The vet said he was incarcerated and might have been trying to escape. He is a maimed dog. The life has gone out of him.
"But I'm lucky; there are people who never see their dogs again. People love their animals like they love a person. There are old people and their dogs are their lives."
Marta Marszalek from Limerick has offered a reward for the family's two-year-old shitzu, Alfie, which was bought as a birthday present for her five-year-old daughter. The dog was taken from their home in Nicholas Street on July 22 and hasn't been seen since.
Ms Marszalek said: "He was a family friend. The children miss him very much. This was my daughter's dog. It cost €300. It's not about the money for us but for him."
Annie Kivlichan of the Mayo branch of the ISPCA said: "Some one needs to highlight this. It is happening all over the country. They pick up dogs and if they get another one they think is better they just throw the poor dog they don't want over a fence.
"We have met people who are absolutely devastated. Dogs are like family members. They just abandon them if they are no use in puppy farms. We had a West Highland terrier recovered in a terrible state, covered in fleas and with a chest infection. If it had not been found it would have starved to death.
"Backyard breeders we call them. Ireland is becoming known as the puppy-farm capital of Europe. And we have the highest rate of euthanasia for dogs. The Department of Agriculture figures for last year had 17,000 dogs put down. Scotland has the same population of Ireland and has 600 a year."