Hundreds of dog owners in Wigan and surrounding towns have had their beloved pets stolen - and very few have been reunited.
Shocking figures have revealed that no fewer than 459 canines were forcibly taken in Greater Manchester between 201-12 and 2015-16, and just 41 have ben recovered by police.
The official police figures suggest the region is in the grip of something of an epidemic, with Greater Manchester Police (GMP) recording the third-highest theft figure of all the forces who provided data.
Only Kent Police, with 471 thefts, and West Yorkshire which dealt with 625 reports of stolen canines, had more incidents than GMP.
However, the Greater Manchester recovery figure is much lower than the other two police forces most commonly dealing with dog thefts, with Kent recovering 98 animals and West Yorkshire 96 in the same five-year period.
A local MP has now spoken out about the extent of the crime, calling for stiffer penalties to make criminals think again.
Dog theft is a cruel crime which causes great distress to owners and their dogsMP Yvonne Fovargue
Ms Fovargue also described the enormous distress having their four-legged friends stolen causes to owners.
Makerfield parliamentary representative Yvonne Fovargue said: “Dog theft is a cruel crime which causes great distress to owners and their dogs.
“Statistics provided by GMP reveal that there have been more than 450 incidents of dog theft recorded since 2011. However, only 41 dogs were returned to their owners.
“At the moment there is no specific crime of dog theft and so if it does reach court, a well-loved dog which is a family member, is treated as property just like a TV or mobile phone.
“I support calls for tougher sentencing guidelines for dog theft in the hope the threat of tougher sanctions will act as a deterrent to criminals.”
The statistics also suggest dog theft is a far bigger problem in Wigan and the other nine Greater Manchester authorities than in surrounding areas.
Merseyside Police revealed its officers recorded 73 dog thefts between January 1, 2015 and May 23, 2016.
Lancashire Police dealt with barely a quarter of the number of incidents recorded in Greater Manchester between 2011-12 and 2015-16, with 108 stolen dogs reported and 20 recovered. In the same time period Cheshire Police recorded 69 thefts but did not provide figures for how many were recovered.
The Wigan Post has covered several harrowing stories in which dogs were stolen, some of them involving shocking levels of violence directed towards owners.
Last year a litter of six Jack Russell and Shih Tzu cross puppies were taken from Barlow’s Farm in Bickershaw, with two other pets being kept at the address being injured by the robbers during the raid.
One of the animals was so badly hurt as it tried to protect the puppies that it later died from its injuries.
Thugs also threatened a Wigan woman and her young child with a meat cleaver and a kitchen knife during a terrifying ordeal at a house in Worsley Mesnes in October 2016.
The offenders took four Dogue de Bordeaux puppies from the house in an incident which left the owner so traumatised that she had to move house. Three puppies were later recovered in Bryn.