Police hope to reunite suspected stolen dogs with owners 'in next few days'
- Credit: Archant
Police are hoping to reunite 83 suspected stolen dogs with their rightful owners "within the next few days where possible" following a raid at a site in Ipswich at the weekend.
Officers executed a number of warrants at West Meadows travellers' site, near Asda in Goddard Road on Saturday afternoon as part of an investigation into a spate of dog thefts.
A total of 83 suspected stolen dogs, of various breeds and ages, were recovered after a large number of officers spent 10 hours at the site.
Six people, three men and three women, were also arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to steal and have been released on bail until April 16.
Work has now begun to try to identify owners of the dogs, with officers scanning microchips and liaising with other police forces around the country.
Many of the dogs are suspected to have been stolen from outside Suffolk.
Detective Chief Superintendent Eamonn Bridger said reuniting the pets with their owners is the force's "absolute focus" and revealed that some of the dogs have needed care and support.
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"Obviously it was very much intelligence-led, using information given to us by the community and our research to give us an insight and to then be really proactive in what we do, and making sure that we took action as quickly as we could," he said.
"Suffice to say this wasn't a professional operation that you'd expect to find from kennels which are registered and some of the dogs will require support and treatment to get them back to their former well-being.
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"Anyone who has lost a pet understands the bereavement that goes with that. So our absolute focus is trying to identify who each of the dogs belong to, using microchips where possible, or other methods where that's not possible.
"We'll be seeking to make contact with them as soon as we possibly can to reunite them with their pets so they can go back to the loving environments they were cruelly taken from.
"So we're prioritising the work, there's a lot of dogs involved. Not all are microchipped, which will create some challenges, but we will be using the right databases to do it as soon as possible.
"Where that information has been provided to police forces, we will use our network to quickly identify and make contact with the owners and hopefully get them back to their proper homes within the next few days where that's possible."
Det Ch Supt Bridger said Suffolk police has received a large number of enquiries following the raid.
"The public interest has been massive. It's an emotive subject. It has been a rising crime type as well so there have been a lot of people nationally victim to such crime," he said.
"At the moment, we've not been able to share details or pictures or anything else so people, understandably, have been contacting us and there has been a number of direct contacts made. Where we've been able to, we've given them straightforward answers where the description doesn't match any of the dogs."
Dog theft crime saw a dramatic rise in 2020, when the country faced Covid-19 lockdowns and many people decided they wanted a new pet.
That demand drove prices up and criminals began stealing dogs - either to sell one to use them to breed.
"This has been a growing crime trend, some criminals haven't been able to do the type of crime that they would ordinarily do, as well as the demand which has been driven by people wanting pets," Det Ch Supt Bridger said.
"It's been something that people have been able to concentrate on during lockdown when many of their other interests have been curtailed. What this has done has driven up the value of new puppies.
"Criminals have taken the opportunity to steal family pets and then either sell them on directly or use them to breed puppies - and then sell those puppies at huge profit margins."
Det Ch Supt Bridger added that the "really positive outcome" of the operation shows how seriously Suffolk police are taking the crime and urged people to come forward if they have any further information.
"We really recognise the impact of this type of crime. We do listen to the community, they've been really vocal around how important this is to them," he said.
"I think this is an excellent example of how Suffolk police takes notice of what communities say and then take action. We worked with partners, we've developed information and intelligence and we've gone out there to do what we're here to do.
"Importantly, I still think there's a crime reduction message that needs to be put out. People do need to be taking steps around microchipping their pets, they need to be extra vigilant and report any suspicious activities.
"We don't see this as the end of the situation, we're really keen for people to come forward with more information. We're prioritising this work and if people want to talk to us or through Crimestoppers then we'd really encourage that."
Anyone with information about dog thefts can contact Suffolk police's south CID at Landmark House in Ipswich, quoting reference: 13719/21.
Alternatively, contact Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555111.
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