Terrified dog owners are taking to walking their pets in groups at a Doncaster beauty spot over rising fears gangs are stealing animals to use in dog fights.
Residents living near Town Field are taking the drastic measure in a bid to protect their pets from being snatched by men who they say have made several attempts to steal pets in recent weeks.
The move comes after an incident on Easter Sunday when a man attempted to snatch a pup from a dog walker by picking up the pet but fled when the animal bit him.
Now concerned dog lover Christine Lewis says she and other walkers are taking to exercising their pets together for fear of being targeted by dog thieves.
She said: “It is really, really frightening. What used to be a perfectly good area to walk dogs has now become a place where people are scared that someone will come up to them and try and steal their beloved pet.
“Word has got round and people are now going out walking their dogs in groups to feel safer.”
Details of Sunday’s incident were posted in a Facebook group entitled Lost and Found Pets in Doncaster.
A user called Sandra Smart wrote: “Please be aware of potential dog theft! A man wearing a full white track suit, of Eastern European dialect, bent down as if to stroke the pup, took the lead off the pup and picked her up and started to walk off.”
It is understood the man fled after the animal bit him.
Added Christine, 65, of Thorne Road, who has been exercising her cocker spaniel-poodle cross breed Mylo on Town Field for two years, said: “You quite often see suspicious people hanging around and people don’t feel safe, especially those with smaller dogs. Those are the kind of dogs that are being used for baiting and fighting. Hopefully by walking our pets together we can keep our pets safe.”
Bawtry based Mayflower Animal Sanctuary has also warned of increasing dog theft and a spokesman said: “Do not walk in quiet areas by yourself. Make sure all your pets are microchipped and details are up to date. Walk in pairs if possible. Be aware of people taking interest in your dog. Do not leave dogs unattended even in your own garden.”
“It’s not fair to have to sacrifice certain walks and be wary whilst you are out but it’s better to be safe than to risk your dog being taken. We need to take a stand against these horrible individuals.”
South Yorkshire Police spokesman PC Matt Duffy said: “Despite a small increase in 2014, on the whole over the last few years the number of thefts of dogs has reduced. Thefts of dogs can be reported due to a variety of circumstances including dispute of ownership after a relationship breakdown or theft from unlocked cars.
“We receive reports of concern when notices appear on Facebook, warning people about gangs who are checking houses for dogs. We always investigate any reports of this nature, however these stories often originate from other countries despite being shared in the UK.
“In order to protect your dog from opportunist thieves, ensure that back gardens and gates are fully secure. If you are leaving your dog in a car, make sure that it is not left for long periods of time on a hot day and lock the vehicle.
“To help return your dog if it goes missing or it is stolen, ensure that is it microchipped. For more information visit your local vet or seek advice from The Dogs Trust.”