Thieves have been reported for stealing 354 dogs in South Yorkshire over the last four years, new figures reveal.
But an expert organisation dedicated to reuniting pets with their owners have warned the true figure is ‘much higher’.
The DogLost organisation say criminals who previously sold stolen metal have now turned their attention to taking dogs.
Under the Freedom of Information Act, South Yorkshire Police revealed 274 people reported dogs being stolen – often more than one pet being taken – between 2013 and July 2017.
DogLost spokesman Nik Oakley said: “The true figure for theft is much higher. DogLost’s figures show that the crime has increased by 24 per cent in the last three years.
“Our estimation is that one in three dogs that are reunited are done so in suspicious circumstances.
“Originally it was opportunist theft and the dog would be sold on quickly to feed a habit. Now it is much more organised crime. There is evidence to suggest that when the selling of stolen metals became more difficult then those people turned to dogs. Many more dogs are now stolen for breeding as it is a profitable operation.
Jacqui Millson, whose dogs Zala and Zeus were stolen from her garden in Rockley View, Tankersley, last December, said more needs to be done to track down those involved.
The 53-year-old, who is offering an £8,000 reward for the safe return of her German Shepherd and Siberian Husky, said she is doing the work of a detective to try to track down her beloved pets, which she suspects may have been stolen for breeding.
"It's not like having a bike stolen from your garden. When it's your dogs that are taken it's like they have taken a member of your family. It's absolutely heartbreaking," she said.
"I spend around three hours a day following up leads, searching the internet, contacting others around the country who are helping me and I will not give up because I don't want to miss anything. I need to feel that at least someone is doing something to find them.
"We set off with a £500 reward and gradually it has gone up to £8,000 and I really thought that would tempt somebody and that we would get them back but we've heard nothing from anyone and the longer it goes on the more worried I am becoming.
"They are big dogs who need lots of exercise but because there have been no positive sightings it makes me think they are locked up somewhere and that breaks my heart.
"It is horrifying to think that so many dogs have been stolen locally and as a victim of this I would like to see the police doing more to find those involved."
New figures show the Staffordshire Bull Terrier is currently the most stolen breed but fashionable breeds like pugs, and chihuahuas also top the list, along with valuable gun dogs like labradors and cocker spaniels.
Lays year 11 malinois puppies, aged two weeks old, which were stolen in a raid.
The year before six French bull dogs were stolen together and police records reveal that earlier this year 13 dogs were stolen in one raid, but the breed has not been logged.
Sergeant Matt Duffy, of South Yorkshire Police, said: ”Thefts of dogs can be reported due to a variety of circumstances, such as theft from insecure gardens and unlocked cars to dispute of ownership.
“We understand how traumatic and upsetting it can be when a dog is taken and whenever the theft of a dog is reported to us, it will always be crimed and any lines of enquiry followed up straight away.
“We will always do what we can to reunite a dog with their owner, however given the current demands on police forces operating across the country, there are some simple steps dog owners can take to help keep their pets safe from opportunistic thieves.
“For example, try to ensure your home and garden are secure and avoid leaving your dog on its own for long periods of time. If possible, try and make sure your dog is registered with a vet and is micro chipped as well, so that if a dog is recovered, it can be easily identified and their owner traced.
“We’d also advise not to leave dogs unattended in public places."
Anyone with information on dog thefts should call South Yorkshire Police on 101.
Visit the Find Zala and Zeus page on Facebook with any details on the theft of the dogs.
BREAKDOWN OF STOLEN DOGS LOGGED BY SOUTH YORKSHIRE POLICE:
51 Staffordshire bull terriers / Staff crosses
39 Bull dogs, terriers, pit bulls and mastiffs
15 Pugs / Pug crosses
13 Cocker Spaniels
12 Malinois puppies
10 Chihuahuas / Chihuahua crosses
9 Labradors / Labrador crosses
9 Rottweilers / Rottweiler crosses
9 Patterdale terriers / Patterdale crosses
8 Huskies / Husky crosses
8 Japanese and Siberian Akitas / Akita crosses
8 Miniature Schnauzers
7 Shar pei dogs
6 German Shepherds / German Shepherd crosses
6 Lurchers / Lurcher crosses
6 Yorkshire Terriers
5 Greyhounds / Greyhound crosses
4 Alsatians / Alsatian crosses
4 Springer Spaniels / Springer crosses
4 West Highland Terriers
3 Jack Russells
2 Bedlingtons / Bedlington crosses
2 King Charles Spaniels
2 Lhasa Apso dogs
2 Shih Tzus
1 Alaskan Malamute
1 Anglo Wolf Dog
1 Bernese Mountain Dog
1 Bichon Frise cross
1 Boxer, 1 Boxer cross
1 Border Terrier, 1 Border Terrier cross
1 Boston Terrier
1 Cavalier Beugon
1 Chinese Crested Dog
1 Dog de Bordeaux
1 Dutch Herder
1 Kelpie Whippet cross
1 Maltese cross
1 Miniature Daschund