A new kind of crime wave is sweeping across the U.K.?criminals are stealing people’s dogs and holding them for ransom. ”The ransom demands are going up and up,” says Jayne Hayes, the founder of the website Doglost. “It used to be ?500. But last night we had a couple in the Midlands who paid ?2,500 to get their dog back.

“They won’t talk to anybody, because they feel so threatened?these people know where they live. But the people rang this lady and her husband several times over the weekend, saying, ‘That’s not enough; it’s not worth getting out of bed for that.’ And then they got to ?1,000. Then the people said, ‘No. We’ve seen your house. You can afford more than that…’ And they kept ringing, and the figure kept going up and up until they got the money they wanted. All I can tell you is that they had to go to a very odd place in the middle of the night, leave all this money in a plastic bag, then go home and wait for a phone call?and they were thinking, ‘Have we been set up?’ But two hours later they got a call and were told where their dog was.” (Note: A British pound is worth about $1.70 U.S. right now).

Malcolm Macalister Hall writes in The Independent that Hayes set up Doglost after her own pet was dognapped last year. She says, ”I know of one figure that was paid to get a dog back?and it was almost the deposit on a house. I can’t say any more, because the people feel threatened, and they don’t want to risk anything else happening. There are some very, very nasty people involved in this.”

There are rumors that someone recently paid a ?20,000 ransom for the return of their stolen dog, and that the equivalent of ?18,000 has been paid in Ireland. Some people think addicts are doing this to get drug money. Last month, 35-year-old Lester Poynton was jailed for 21 months after confessing to blackmail and “handling stolen goods”?a bulldog. He was arrested when he met the dog owner and an undercover police officer in a hotel parking lot and was handed ?400 in cash. He claimed he was under pressure from a gang to pay up the money he owed them for drugs.

Jayne Hayes believes that her French bulldog Hermie was sold several times for drug money during the six weeks he was missing last year. Since January this year, her website has helped to reunite 168 missing dogs with their owners. Only 10 of these dogs had wandered off; the rest were stolen, and 21 of these were held for ransom. Hayes says the most frequently dognapped pets are Labradors (perhaps because they’re the friendliest and most easy to capture).

Dog Warden Brian Milligan says, “A lot of money is being handed over late at night. I have had a case where a woman handed over ?3,000 to get her dog back, at 1:30 am. I can’t say where, but it was in the southeast of England. People have threatened to kill the dogs if they don’t get the money, and the people who’ve paid a lot to get them back won’t talk, because they have been threatened and they are absolutely petrified.”

We need to get those Labs to describe the perpetrators.

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