The pandemic has been good to dog thieves. With the demand for pets surging – as loads of us spent all day, every day at home – prices for dogs soared, and criminals looked to capitalise.
The number of stolen dogs in the UK rose by 19 percent over 2020 compared to the previous year, in the most immediately apparent form of dog-related crime. But illegal importation has also risen considerably, with desirable breeds bred in puppy farms shipped over to the UK to supply everyone desperate for a French bulldog, Pomeranian or Dachshund pup.
In this new VICE documentary, with access to the minds behind the crimes and the people on the frontline trying to prevent them, we meet a gang that grabs dogs from parks and people’s homes, and discover why illegal puppy farms have become one of the fastest growing illicit markets in Europe.
Two illegal dog importers who remove European microchips with a scalpel and implant fake British ones before sealing the skin up with super glue. They claim that as much as 70 percent of the UK's dog demand is met by illegal puppy farms in Eastern Europe. Photos: VICE
Two dog thieves, who recently pivoted from drug dealing into the canine "business", with a stolen XL American Bully and a puppy they've bred from it.
A dog that about to have its European microchip removed and a fake British microchip implanted, in order to be sold to the UK market.
The tools of the trade; these importers use a scanner to find the microchip, and then a small scalpel to pull it out, before placing the new one in and gluing the skin down.
This Staffordshire Bull Terrier, named "Eco", was stolen in a park in Whitechapel. With the help of online pet detectives, the owners were able to trace the dog to a property. After an eight-hour stakeout they saw Eco being taken out for a wee, at which point the owners grabbed her and made their getaway.
Ceilidh, Eco's owner, was ecstatic when she was able to "kidnap" her dog back from the thieves.
With police not prioritising dog crime, an online army of pet detectives has filled the void. Here, VICE's Livvy Haydock meets with Lisa Dean at her local pub HQ as she works on a new case of stolen Cocker Spaniels.
The Lilley family had two of their Cocker Spaniels stolen from their house in the middle of the night. They're currently embarking on a nationwide campaign to get them back.
A property where stolen dogs are being kept. These dogs have been fitted with electric shock collars which stun them into compliance.
This dog thief, known as "Jamie", has made a fortune in lockdown stealing people's dogs and selling them on.