Dognapping…yesterday’s ST column

I’ve been interested in dognapping ever since my mum’s Jack Russell, Tadpole, was pinched from the garden in Kent some years ago. One minute he was there, the next he’d gone. He wasn’t the sort to scurry off after a fox or a rabbit, the wild days of Tadpole’s youth were over. But despite Mum stapling posters to every lamppost within a three or four hundred mile radius, we didn’t see him again. What kind of person would do that?

I thought about Tadpole this week while reading about another dognapping case in Kent, where two men tried to snatch a German Shorthaired pointer called Alfie. Despite throwing acid, these men weren’t much more capable than the bumbling dog thieves in 101 Dalmatians, so Alfie ‘sent them sprawling’ (good boy), and the only good thing we can say about this sorry situation is that Alfie remains with his owners. But the case has sparked more talk about rising dognapping cases across the country – up seven per cent last year – so I decided to ring a chap called Colin Butcher, one of Britain’s top pet detectives, for his tips to protect doggy readers.

I came across Colin while working on an animal story at Tatler (obviously). He’s a former detective inspector and Navy pilot who flew in the same squadron as Prince Andrew. In 2009, he decided to set up a pet-detective agency and when I spoke to him earlier this week, he was in St Tropez trying to take pictures of a yacht for a client (he does some traditional PI work on the side.) He knew about the Alfie case and said that, yes, he is seeing an increase in violence when it comes to dognapping and ‘more targeted offences.’

‘Five years ago, it was rare for violence to be used,’ said Colin, but thieves are getting smarter. They may scour shows for prize dogs (like Alfie), he says, and decipher where the dog lives ‘relatively easily’ from social media, then hang about in the local park waiting for that dog to appear.

Colin had several tips for doggy readers to make a dognap less likely. Firstly, understand the risks if you’re going to buy a popular pedigree breed. French bulldogs, pugs, chihuahuas and working cocker spaniels (because of the Middletons, apparently) are targets. ‘And we’re seeing a massive trend in Yorkshire terriers. They’re everywhere in St Tropez, I saw Ivana Trump with hers in a restaurant yesterday.’

If you have a fashionable breed, says Colin, ‘adjust your behaviour. Walk in different locations and at different times.’ Don’t be too proactive with pictures online, he adds, and if you hear of an offence nearby, then switch our walking routine up again because it’s likely that thieves have their eye on two or three dogs in an area. On no account ever leave a dog outside a shop either. Tricky in certain situations, but perhaps follow the example of my friend, whose daughter breezes in and out of shops carrying their cockapoo, claiming he’s her ‘anxiety assistance dog’. Canny.

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It was reported last week that Prince Harry and Meghan flew to Lake Como for the weekend on a ‘minimoon’. They flew into Italy on a private jet to stay with the Clooneys in their 18th century villa, and Harry played basketball while Meghan played with the Clooney’s 10-month old twins. Maybe they drank Nespresso too. Who knows. But while I don’t take issue with the weekend, I’m feeling peevish about the word ‘minimoon.’ It’s become fashionable in recent years to bastardize the evocative, Old English word ‘honeymoon’. There’s ‘minimoon’ (a short, post-wedding flit somewhere not too far away), ‘maximoon’ (the bigger, more blowout post-wedding celebration), ‘babymoon’ (a break taken just before giving birth), even ‘mummymoon’, which is when a mum goes away for a jolly without any children. Enough silliness. What’s wrong with the word ‘holiday’?

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‘Can I take your email address?’ said the woman behind the till in Westfield as I was paying for a pair of shoes. You might have noticed this ‘Can I take your email?’ business in shops. It’s on the rise, ostensibly so they can email us the receipts instead of giving us a hardcopy which is stuffed into a pocket or a handbag. Or lost, I often find, if it’s something really expensive which you later want to return. But I’m suspicious about handing out my email address. I don’t need my inbox any more clogged up than it is already. (I got a spam email last week with the subject line ‘Get your pelvic floor red carpet ready!’ No need, thank you, it doesn’t get out much.) ‘Just the paper receipt please,’ I said crisply to the woman in Westfield. Poor thing looked a bit weary, but all I wanted was my pair of espadrilles, not a new pen pal.

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