x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Pet theft on increase, says dog charity K9

Police say crimes are rare and blame 'juveniles playing around' but owners and pet charity say the dogs are being used in organised fights.

Roxy, a female Husky, was two years old when stolen.
Roxy, a female Husky, was two years old when stolen.

DUBAI // When thieves broke into Laila al Khaja's house last month, they did not touch the television, car keys or jewellery. Instead, they took the family pets - Roxy, a female husky, and Bama, a Pomeranian.

The bereft owner is at a loss to understand why anyone would steal her beloved dogs - and how she might get them back.

"If someone steals the car or the TV, it's OK - you can buy a new one," said Ms Khaja, a 32-year-old UAE National. "But come on, you get so attached to a dog you can't replace it."

She is not alone. Across the country, owners and charities say there has been a spate of dognappings.

"It's an ongoing problem," said Jackie Ratcliffe, who runs the dog charity K9 Friends. "These dogs are lifted and they are either used for dog fighting, or they take them to the souqs and sell them.

"It's amazing how many people's dogs go missing and they never see them again."

Ms Al Khaja suspects money could have been the motive. "They just took the two most expensive dogs and left the other one," she said. Between them, the two missing dogs were worth around Dh12,000.

The thieves broke in while the family slept at their home in Bahya, Abu Dhabi - leaving Ms Al Khaja paranoid about security. "Next time what are they going to do? Are they going to kidnap a baby or something?"

She added that a neighbour in Bahya had seven dogs stolen from her house, several weeks earlier.

Brigadier Maktoum Al Sherifi, director of the Capital Police Department in Abu Dhabi, said these crimes were not common.

"Generally when this does happen it is usually juveniles playing around," he said. "They like dogs and it would tempt them to steal them. But it's definitely not an organised crime ring."

There have been cases in Dubai, too. One afternoon last summer, a gate was left open at Marce Kretsenger's family villa in Al Barsha and his two dogs escaped.

Lego, an Alsatian-cross, was returned. But Lola, a pitbull, was not.

Mr Kretsenger, 19, from South Africa, believes thieves took the pitbull because of its value as a fighter.

"We presumed that's why someone would take her, for that purpose," he said. "It makes me feel bad for her, I wouldn't want her to have that kind of life.

"She was a very loving and kind dog. We said she was a frustrated lapdog, because she would always try to sit on your lap, even as big as she was."

K9 Friends mobilised large search parties, checking with vets and the Municipality. But there has been no trace.

Mohsen Nas's French mastiff, Bardos, was accidentally trapped outside his house in Mirdiff in early 2011. Within an hour the dog had vanished.

"I searched hard all across Dubai for months and I still couldn't find him," said the 26-year-old Iranian. "If I was looking for Bigfoot, I probably would have found him."

He, too, believes his dog was stolen to fight. "It hurts me when I think about it," he said. "He's probably in one of those tents in the desert where they have dog fighting.

"He's probably not being taken care off and being made to fight. It makes me feel so angry and helpless."

The disappearance has driven Mr Nas into a year-long spiral of depression.

"My greatest wish in this world," he said, "is just to see my dog one more time."

* additional reporting by Haneen Dajani

mcroucher@thenational.ae