Wigan dog owners have been put on a security alert after a sudden spike in the number of pet thefts.
Figures obtained by the Wigan Post show that last year saw a worrying 66 per cent increase in dognappings with only a fraction of those beloved animals taken being returned to their owners.
There were 15 dogs were reported stolen to Greater Manchester Police in 2017, up from nine in 2016. The majority of canines were snatched from gardens or yards, while many were also taken from houses.
Two were also brazenly snatched from a veterinary surgery.
The latest figure also tops the 2015 tally of 12 stolen pets.
Sadly, only one in six dogs reported stolen over the three-year period was later 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.
In 2016, a litter of six Jack Russell/Shih Tzu cross puppies were stolen in a brutal robbery from a farm in Bickershaw, with two other pets being kept at the address 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 and fearful of further attacks that she had to move house.
Three of the puppies were later recovered in Bryn though. And in December last year, a horrifying “dog prison” was uncovered in a derelict Wigan farmhouse, after two stolen pets were spotted in the grounds by local residents.
The squalid hovel was located on an abandoned farm in Fairy Glen.
The converted stable was covered in dog waste and decked out with rows of padlocked cages built for holding the animals.
A charity today urged owners to take precautions against theft - including not leaving dogs tied up outside shops - and also microchipping because it increases the chances of getting stolen dogs back.
Dogs Trust senior campaigns manager Lee Paris says weak sentencing guidelines for dog thefts were not a strong enough deterrent.
He said: “We believe existing sentencing does nothing to act as a deterrent to thieves. Currently, dogs are treated like any other form of property and, as such, paltry fines are mostly given.
We want the sentencing council to recognise dogs as part of the family and acknowledge the emotional impact of dog theft. Linked to this, we want an increase in sentencing so, at the bare minimum, a community order or prison sentence is given, not a fine.”
Lee urged dog owners to be vigilant when leaving their dogs unattended, including tied up outside shops. He said that neutering helped prevent dogs from straying and less attractive to thieves for breeding. And he also recommended pets be chipped so the owner can be traced if they are later recovered.