What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

Pandemic brings unexpected perils for British dog owners

In the United Kingdom, an unexpected result of the pandemic: a surge in dognapping. Puppy prices have soared during lockdown, and pet thefts have spiked 65 percent in a year. As some owners pay hefty ransoms for their animals' return, they say Parliament needs to toughen legislation that currently treats pets as property rather than as companions. Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now, as we close, man's best friend has somehow become even more indispensable over the months of the pandemic, and nowhere more so than Britain. People have gone dog-mad.

    But as our own mad dog and Englishman Malcolm Brabant reports, canine care during COVID comes with more than a few complexities.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    This is Betty, controlling her human with the assuredness that dogs rule the world. That's certainly true in Britain where, during lockdown, puppy prices have soared.

  • Beverley Cuddy:

    I think there's very few winners in the pandemic, but the dog has — we have all remembered how marvelous dogs are. Dogs became the must-have thing, after the toilet roll.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Beverley Cuddy is Britain's preeminent newshound, the canine Cronkite, who shares some characteristics with Betty.

  • Beverley Cuddy:

    Well, she doesn't shut up.

    (LAUGHTER)

    So, I think we have got a lot in common.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Dogs' unconditional love has spawned profiteering, and worse.

  • Beverley Cuddy:

    I have never experienced anything quite so mad. People were outbidding each other for that last puppy, and people were selling dogs that didn't exist.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    But there's a flip side, a major spike in dognapping, 65 percent up on last year. This is Honey, stolen two months ago. The poster sends a clear message to the dognappers: A deal can be done.

    Owner Cintia Gardner.

  • Cintia Gardner:

    We don't want to know who you are, or your name, or anything. Please do the right thing. You can.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Going for a simple walk is no longer safe. Owners are being monitored by crooks waiting for a chance to grab Mr. Four Legs.

  • Wayne May:

    It's easy money. We believe there's organized crime. There's a small percentage that is opportunist crime, but we believe that these are being stolen to order.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Wayne May is a pet detective working for a nonprofit called Doglost. He specializes in reuniting stolen animals with their owners.

  • Wayne May:

    In some cases, we have had to buy the dogs back. People are paying 5,000 pounds to get their dogs back.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    But if you are paying to get your dog back, aren't you actually encouraging the crime, because, as far as the dognappers are concerned, it proves that crime pays?

  • Wayne May:

    Yes, you are. I totally agree. My own personal view is that you should offer a finder's fee, rather than a reward. However, it is down to the individual dog owner how they wish to proceed.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Celeste, the champion beagle, was once taken hostage, and was only released after Sally Kimber paid a substantial ransom.

  • Sally Kimber:

    In a way, I don't agree with it, but when it's your dog and you want it back, what else can you do?

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    The dognoscenti believe canine crime laws are toothless.

    Beverley Cuddy wants tougher legislation, with jail time for dognappers.

  • Beverley Cuddy:

    Because the law just — in this country sees dogs as just chattel. It was like having your phone stolen. And nobody cares if you have had your phone stolen.

    But when it's a member of your family — because that's how we regard dogs now. They have got human names. They used to be called Spot and Fido and maybe they lived in the shed. Now they're on the sofa. They're on the bed.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Ah, bed time, it's a major issue for Hallie and her human, Paul Phillips. For years, Hallie always slept alone downstairs, while Phillips slept upstairs. But then?

  • Paul Phillips:

    Since lockdown, she's had me around 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and, lately, has developed what appears to be this fear of being separated. For a week, she was up all night showing signs of severe anxiety, panting, scratching the floor.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    The solution? Abject surrender.

  • Paul Phillips:

    In order to get a whole night's sleep, I have had to give in to her and let her sleep next to me every single night, which my partner is not over the moon about.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    The condition is known as separation anxiety, as a result of months of being isolated with their owners. There's a pandemic.

  • Sue Ketland:

    We have a real fear that separation anxiety cases are going to explode once we start to come out of lockdown and things go back to normal.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Sue Ketland is a behavior specialist with Wood Green, a leading animal nonprofit.

  • Sue Ketland:

    The dog is really panicking when left home alone. So it is something to be taken very seriously.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Uh-oh. This is Loki, our golden retriever, complaining after my wife and I left the house.

    Loki is a typical lockdown puppy. We paid top dollar seven months ago, and haven't once left him alone. He had an idyllic lockdown. But in common with so many new owners, we have become his prisoners and need to make some changes.

    Just the stick. Just please?

    It's late to wean Loki off his dependency, but the behaviorist thinks it's possible.

    Just sit, Loki. Sit.

  • Sue Ketland:

    The sad fact is that, if you have a dog with an established attachment disorder, you have to be at home in order to get through a behavior modification program. If you only discover it once you're out to work for eight, nine hours a day, then it becomes almost impossible to rectify.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    But going for a communal dip seems to help conquer some lockdown nerves.

    Jo Allen runs canine dip and dive.

  • Jo Allen:

    A lot of puppies that have been bought in lockdown haven't been socialized. But now they're beginning to come here, you can see the difference as the session goes on.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    But dog spas are rare, and can be pricey.

    So, in this turbulent new COVID world of dognappers and canine anxiety, the best that we new puppy parents can do is to be super vigilant, but also to try to reverse some of the psychological damage that we and lockdown have inadvertently caused.

    For the "PBS NewsHour." I'm Malcolm Brabant in Brighton.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, you know what they say: a man's best friend, and a woman's.

    Well, Malcolm Brabant, we thank you.

Listen to this Segment