Animal welfare experts have warned pet owners to be extra vigilant over the festive season, as thieves try to cash in on the lucrative Christmas market.
Robert Kenny, who is Ireland’s only fully-qualified pet detective, said leading pedigree breeds are a prized target for dognappers, as they can be sold on for up to €3,000.
Mr Kenny, who owns the Dublin-based Happy Tails detective agency, said that breeds such as King Charles cavaliers, Jack Russells, Pomeranians, and Bischon Frise are top of the gangs’ hit list, because they yield huge profits, particularly in the UK market.
He also warned that canny thieves will target dogs at home when their owners are out at work — and in some cases will even hold their pets to ransom.
He said: “More than 50% of the calls I get now are for stolen animals rather than missing pets.
“It’s heartbreaking for people to lose a pet in this way and families can often be broken apart after having their pet stolen.
“I particularly feel for the elderly, as they are very vulnerable and not clued in to what’s going on.
“And my advice to owners would be always keep your dog indoors when you’re out of the house or at work and never leave a dog unattended in the garden.”
Animal charities and welfare groups have urged pet owners to help protect their dogs by getting them microchipped — a ruling which is expected to become mandatory in this country by 2016.
However, Mr Kenny — who is also a director of Leinster Animal Rescue — warned that criminals are increasingly targeting other more exotic pets.
He said: “I have done cases for cats, dogs, horses, ponies, parrots, alligators, snakes, and even once for a tortoise — which I successfully recovered.”
However, for those unfortunate enough to have their beloved pets stolen, Mr Kenny — who has been in operation since 2007 and who is one of just 214 qualified pet detectives worldwide — boasts some encouraging recovery statistics, including once successfully tracking down Hollywood star Sandra Bullock’s missing Staffordshire pitbull.
The top pet tracker — who uses DNA forensics, infra-red hi-tech search cameras, and bionic ear listening devices in his day-to-day work, said his success rate in recovering cats is 72%, missing lost dogs 67%, and 41% for stolen cases.
Mr Kenny added: “The reason stolen cases are lower is due to the fact that a large number are transported to the UK and mainland Europe.”
Meanwhile, the ISPCA has urged people to think twice before buying a dog as a Christmas gift.
Conor Dowling, who is a senior inspector with the organisation, said: “We would call on families not to buy a dog as a surprise gift and if they are thinking of buying a dog to be well prepared for it.
“We’ve never been as busy as we are at the moment and our shelters are full to capacity. It’s been difficult re-homing the animals in our shelters lately and we would urge anyone thinking of getting a pet to get in touch with us.”