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Dublin: 10°C Tuesday 11 May 2021

Convicted drug dealer suspected of running dognapping ring as gardaí urge families to be vigilant

The number of dog thefts has increased over the past year.

Some of the 32 dogs seized by gardai in north Dublin in November.
Some of the 32 dogs seized by gardai in north Dublin in November.
Image: An Garda Síochána

A DRUG DEALER based in the midlands is suspected of being behind a dognapping ring responsible for the theft of dozens of pets from their homes over the course of the pandemic.

The dealer, who is also a target of the Criminal Assets Bureau, began stealing the animals at the start of the first lockdown in March as demand for pets increased. Dogs have been stolen across the country on behalf of this criminal, gardaí believe.

The criminal has hired several young men, including vulnerable drug addicts, to identify high-value animals and then steal them. 

Gardaí have been alerted to an increase in dog thefts in the last nine months.

Current laws mean that the theft of an animal is the legal equivalent of theft of property. There have been calls for this law to be changed which have been backed by organisations such as Dogs Trust.

It emerged last month that new legislation to make it a more serious offence to steal a pet dog could be on the way from Government.

Minister of State James Browne has said an action plan which will tackle dog theft and animal welfare will be published soon.

There have been over 130 incidences of dog theft in the past year, according to Department of Justice figures.

However, just over 40 of these thefts have been logged by the garda Pulse system. This discrepancy can be put down to a lack of official reporting by people who have had their pets stolen. The department receives information from multiple sources such as the DSPCA and other shelters, that the gardaí don’t.

A statement has to be given to gardaí before they launch an official investigation.

Spokeswoman for the DSPCA, Gillian Bird, said she had heard that criminal elements had turned their hands to dognapping and breeding during the pandemic. 

“We have heard elements of that alright,” she said.

What I will say is that without the person buying these animals, there would be no demand. We always want people to adopt animals and not to buy them because unless you live next door to the breeder and are able to pop your head in unannounced, then you really don’t know what’s happening.

However, Bird explained that the pandemic has been “a blessing in disguise” as fewer animals have been surrendered to the DSPCA than is usually expected around this time of year. 

“This would usually be our busiest time for surrendering animals but it’s not happening at all as often. Lockdown has been brilliant for dogs. But we have also seen a decrease in the number of cruelty cases as well. People are now embracing the fact they have a dog and are looking after it which is brilliant.

There have been reports of dog theft and there has been an increase in reports of dog theft. We are just urging people to get their dogs microchipped.

Corina Fitzsimons of Dogs Trust Ireland said her organisation has been made aware of an increase in thefts and singled out that there has been a large demand for thoroughbred dogs. 

“Sadly, we have seen a big increase in the number of dogs missing, suspected as stolen on our Lost and Found Dogs Facebook Group so, we would urge dog owners to be very careful with their dogs and not to leave them in their gardens unsupervised, leave them outside shops or let them out of their sight while out walking.”

Fitzsimons added that it is “incredibly important” that dogs are microchipped and that the details stored on the chip are kept up-to-date. 

It means that if a stolen dog is discovered by authorities, the animal can be returned to its rightful owners as soon as possible. 

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While gardaí are investigating the midlands drug dealer as one of the primary criminals behind dog theft, there are dozens of other people suspected of being involved in the cruel trade. 

Gardaí have made several significant seizures of dogs in recent months. For example, at the end of November, officers seized 32 dogs in north Dublin. There have also been various seizures at Dublin Port. 

Speaking about the recent increase in thefts, a garda spokesman said: 

“An Garda Síochána is aware there has been a number of dog thefts throughout the country recently. As we are hearing a lot about dog theft, it can make dog owners feel unsafe and worried about their beloved pets – so we would advise you take extra precautions for their safety.

“Pets should be microchipped so they can be easily identified if found. Dogs should be microchipped once they are 12 weeks old as per Statutory Instruments S.I. 63 of 2015.”

Gardaí also urged the public to be wary of strangers and vary their walking patterns. 

You might be more than happy to talk about your dog to anyone who asks but be aware and stay vigilant of strangers on your dog walks. Be wary of anyone that starts asking for personal information, if you notice a stranger watching you or your dog, or if you see someone acting suspiciously.
Make sure to vary the times and places you walk your dog to avoid creating a pattern for thieves to track and plan around.

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