FAMILIES enduring the 'nightmare' of pet theft are on the rise, with the number of stolen dogs almost doubling in just two years.

New figures reveal that 85 dogs were reported stolen in the Thames Valley region in 2018, up from 47 in 2016.

DogLost, which collected the statistics from Thames Valley Police, said the rapid surge in numbers was 'shocking.'

Justine Quirk, a volunteer at the charity, said: "For the past three years, national dog theft figures have grown significantly.

"However, we are shocked by the figures shared by Thames Valley Police.

"The families of these stolen dogs live in a constant nightmare, worrying about where their much-loved family member is and whether they are being cared for."

It is thought the actual number of stolen dogs could be much higher, as some go unreported or remain listed as missing.

Ms Quirk added: "The sad fact is, many of the dogs that we still have listed as missing on our database are likely to have been a victim of theft by finding."

Last year, a Bucks couple feared their whippet cross Ruby had been stolen after she vanished while out walking.

The desperate family even chartered a helicopter to scour the area for their missing pet.

Bucks Free Press:

After a week of leaflet dropping, putting up posters, social media appeals, overnight and dawn vigils and daytime searches on foot, by drone and with tracker dogs, there were no confirmed sightings of Ruby or any clues to her whereabouts.

Another dog listed as stolen last year was Tilly the Tibetan Terrier, who ran off while being walked near her home in Oxfordshire.

She scarpered in September after being spooked by a group of dogs, and no confirmed sightings have been made since that day.

Her owner Victoria Calcutt, who is still desperately searching for her beloved pet, believes Tilly was stolen as she vanished without a trace.

The business owner, who lives with her husband and their eight-year-old daughter, said: " Tracker dogs followed her scent to the place of the last confirmed sighting.

"After that, she just disappeared."

Mrs Calcutt said the family is confident Tilly was not run over as the highways agency did not log any accidents involving dogs in the following weeks.

She said: "We firmly believe that Tilly has been found and kept by someone, or they’ve sold her on – maybe to an unsuspecting family.

"We're never going to give up looking for her and we hope that anyone reading this who may have any information on Tilly will contact DogLost."

Any stray dog found must be reported to the local authorities or a dog warden, as failing to do so and taking it in is classed as theft by finding.

DogLost issued advice to dog owners to protect their pets, stating: "Owners should try to limit the risk of their dogs being stolen by not leaving them unattended in vehicles or tied up outside shops, schools or other public places.

"Sadly even secure gardens aren’t a deterrent to a would-be thief, so we do advise keeping an eye on them when they are in your garden too."

Here’s what to do:

- Report the theft to police immediately via 101 and obtain a crime reference number

- Contact the microchip company and report the dog as stolen

- Get in touch with DogLost, which will supply printable poster templates to share locally, help with a social media appeal and offer support

- Don’t give up, DogLost has been involved in cases in which dogs have been found and reunited years later