A NEW campaign to tackle the growing scourge of dognapping has been launched in a rural borough.

Ribble Valley Dog Watch aims to protect owners from thieves looking to capitalise on increased prices and demand for pedigree pets.

It has been launched after a 13 per cent recorded increase in dog thefts in Lancashire last year with social media reports suggesting the county and nationwide problem is worse.

Ribble Valley Council, which coordinates the Ribble Valley Community Safety Partnership, has launched a new section on its web site featuring advice and information on how to keep the thieves at bay.

The borough's dog wardens will be out and about on popular dog-walking routes over the coming weeks handing out leaflets and warning people about the problem.

Cllr Robert Thompson, chairman of the Ribble Valley Community Safety Partnership, said: “Demand for puppies has risen sharply and there are lengthy waiting lists and high prices for some breeds.

“Multiple puppy thefts have been reported in national media over the last year and this is expected to rise, so the government is proposing to make pet-theft a specific crime category in recognition of the significant distress it causes to dogs and owners.

“We have launched this campaign to stay a step ahead of the problem and help Ribble Valley dog-owners keep their precious pets safe.”

Advice to owners includes:

● Do not leave your dog unattended at any time;

● Do not tie your dog up outside a shop;

● Do not leave your dog in an unsecured garden as most dogs are stolen from gardens;

● Be aware of strangers who show an interest in your dog – do not let them take photographs or give them information, such as your pet’s name or address;

● Watch out for people in vehicles (especially vans) parked where you wouldn’t expect them;

● Your dog should wear a collar and tag in public;

● Make sure your dog is microchipped and keep the details up to date;

● Change your walking routes regularly;

● Do not let your dog wander off;

● Consider carrying a personal attack alarm or loud whistle in the event someone tries to steal your dog.