Dog owners are being warned to stay alert after two women were targeted by criminals hoping to steal puppies – which are worth more than drugs.
Organised crime gangs have been targeting lone women out walking their puppies in the hopes of snatching their pooches which can be worth up to £3,500.
Animals of the right pedigree and breed are being flogged on the black market as breeders struggle to keep up with demand for certain types of dogs.
The Stolen and Missing Pets Alliance (SAMPA) has urged dog owners to keep watch for suspicious individuals who might try to dupe owners into handing over their pooches.
Debbie Matthews of SAMPA told MirrorOnline : "It’s important for the public at large to be vigilant when out walking their dogs.
"Be dog theft aware. Nowhere is safe from these monsters."
Her warning comes as the price of dog breeds including chow chows, dachshunds, pugs and bulldogs have skyrocketed by almost 75% as families at home in lockdown snap up fashionable pooches.
The Dogs Trust states the cost of an average pug has jumped from £684 to £1,220 and French bulldogs from £1,251 to £2,128 since March.
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Last week, Ciera Fleming of Poole, Dorset, was approached by two men claiming to be from the RSPCA who tried to take her collie-cross dog away while she was out for a walk.
She told The Mirror: "They told me my dog matched the description of a stolen dog and they would have to take her for tests.
"The men weren’t in uniform. When I started to ask questions, one of them looked annoyed and started to get out. I slammed his door shut and ran off."
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While Lauren Barnes, 28, was approached by two men in a van while walking her £3,000 golden retriever puppy Bentley near Horsham, West Sussex.
She claimed: "A white unmarked Transit van suddenly veered alongside me.
"Two men in black woollen hats were staring at my dog. The passenger started to get out but I pulled out my phone to take their picture and they sped off.
"They looked really menacing. I think they targeted me because I was a young woman out alone with a nice puppy."
The RSPCA described the crime spree as "worrying" as they report an increase of claims of attacks on lone dog walkers.
Sussex Police said in a statement: "Our rural crime team are gathering intelligence and highlighting crime prevention advice among the dog-owning community."
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