A COUPLE from Wherwell who believe their dog was stolen have called on MPs to make the theft of a pet a criminal offence.

Lindesay Rudd-Clarke, 85, and his wife Jeanne, 66, suspect that their dog Cleo, who went missing on September 16, has been stolen after failing to find any trace of her.

This is despite an extensive search, including thermal cameras, searches of nearby woodland, and even drones used to look for the blue roan cocker spaniel.

“We’re still very distressed,” said Lindesay. “We’ve had an incredible number of hits online, but we’ve come to the conclusion that somebody has stolen her.”

“We’ve posted everywhere,” added Jeanne, “and now assume someone has her. We presume she’ll be sold on.”

The Rudd-Clarkes have been working with the organisation DogLost to try and find Cleo, who say that they are increasingly seeing dogs being stolen.

“There’s been a massive rise in stolen dogs across Hampshire and nationwide,” said a spokesperson. “Lockdown hasn’t helped as people have been buying dogs for silly amounts of money, which makes them more stealable.”

As a result of the impact Cleo's disappearance has had on them, the Rudd-Clarkes called on members of the public to contact their MP about the upcoming petition, in a bid to deter pet thefts. “We need to make people aware that the law needs to be changed,” Lindesay told the Advertiser.

Jeanne said: “The trauma it causes is unbelievable when a dog, or any animal, is stolen.”

At present, the theft of a pet is not specifically covered by legislation, with animals treated the same as other, inanimate, property under the Theft Act 1968.

However, a petition, due to be debated by Parliament on October 19 after gaining over 100,000 signatures, says that the theft of a pet should be a specific crime carrying a minimum of a two year sentence, with the sentencing no longer linked to the value of a pet.

In response to the petition, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “The Government is sympathetic to the emotional trauma which the theft of a much-loved pet can cause. All reported crimes should be taken seriously, investigated and, where appropriate, taken through the courts and met with tough sentences.

“The theft of a pet is already a criminal offence under the Theft Act 1968 and the maximum penalty is seven years’ imprisonment and so there is no need to introduce a separate offence.”

After being contacted for comment by the Advertiser regarding the alleged theft, a spokesperson for Hampshire Constabulary said: "We received a report on September 22 that at around 4.30pm on 16 September a cocker spaniel went missing near to the Old Railway Line in Andover. It is believed the dog may have been stolen, and is microchipped.

"Anyone with information is asked to phone 101 with the reference 44200367337. We would advise dog owners to take extra care when walking their dogs, especially if off-lead in large open-area spaces or wooded areas. Please try and keep your dogs in sight at all times."