The global pandemic has seen a major increase in people buying furry friends to keep them company while they are at home working or isolating, but this has led to a problem: a rise in thefts driven by the inflation of puppy and kitten prices.

But a solution may be at hand.

People are turning to social media, and in particular Facebook, for support - and also to try and track down their stolen pets.

Police have said that organised criminals are turning to dog theft amid a rise in demand for puppies during the lockdown.

With prices of puppies doubling and sometimes tripling to what they were pre-Covid.

The value of a breeding dog has increased tenfold - although pups have increased two or three times in value.

The charity DogLost saw reported pet thefts rise from 172 dogs in 2019 to 465 in 2020.

Judith Sidney allegedly had her dog stolen in November.

Judith said: “Our five and a half year old entire male blond Labrador, Django, went missing, believed stolen for breeding, on 25 November 2020.

The Northern Echo:

“We live in the middle of nowhere.

"Django had the run of our 12 acres.

"We rescued him at seven months and this was his forever home.

"He’s completely bonded with my partner Bob, who walked him for a couple of hours every day, here.

“We believe he’s been picked up for breeding.

"He’s so friendly and used to hopping into the back of a car or van.

"It would have been so easy for someone driving by who spotted him to just beckon him over.

“We’ve spread him all over Facebook - see Bring Django Home Facebook page for photos etc - and joined loads of lost dog groups, as well as postering and offering a huge cash reward.”

The Northern Echo:

Judith not only set her own ‘Bring Django Home’ Facebook page up but she also found groups such as ‘Missing Dogs and Cats in Darlington’ and ‘Dog theft awareness Bishop Auckland and surrounding areas’.

The groups are fighting back against dog thefts and helping to reunite dogs and puppies with their owners in the area.

There are similar groups being set up on Facebook elsewhere across the country.

Katie Rowland, who set the Darlington group up, said: “I’m 32, I don’t work because I’m disabled – I stay at home with my dogs.

"I set up the group in 2018.

"All I was seeing on my news feed was dogs missing all the time and I didn’t like it.

“It was all the time people sharing that they’d got out or they’d gone missing or they’d been stolen and obviously being a dog lover I don’t like that and I wanted to do something about it so, I set that page up just thinking that a couple of hundred people would join it or a few people would join it, and from there it’s just gone crazy.

“There’s just short of 3,000 people in it.

"It’s just for the community – there’s people out of town in it as well, it’s just helped people.

"We’re there to chat and obviously to share the pets that have gone missing and just general dog discussion as well.

"It’s for cats too.”

Katie said that she had seen an increase in people joining the group during Covid.

She added: “It has helped a lot of people.

"Someone shares that a dogs gone missing, then a lot of people will share it, then within 10 to 20 minutes someone will say I’ve found the dog.

“It is a good community.”

Just taking a look at some of the Facebook group posts shows the support, positivity and advice community members in the area and elsewhere are showing each other, when a pet - often seen as a family member - is taken from their lives.

And often when the dog or cat is reunited with their owners.

Judith said: “I made a Facebook group for him with images on – I put reminders on every now and then.

"But the first person to get in touch was Mandy Butler from The Lost Dog Trapping Team.

"She’s on all the Facebook pages and websites and things and every time anything’s come up with a Labrador they’ve got in touch with me and alerted me and I’ve followed it through.

"And lots of other people as well like Katie.”

Mandy is a volunteer with The Lost Dog Trapping Team.

Mandy, who lives in Stockton, said: “I do deal a lot in the Darlington area as well.

"I run the Lost Dog Trapping Team search and rescue network so if any dog goes missing we’re the first point of contact.

"And I work with Dog Lost North East as well.

"So we’re the first point of contact.

“We will give them all the initial advice, tell them what to do, get them a crime reference number, contact the chip companies, we make the posters for them, we’ll then set up a Facebook group.

"We’ll do whatever needs – we’ll be there right the way through for them, giving them advice.

“Any dog that is found that looks similar we’ll send them across to them in case it could be their dog.

"So we’re always there to support them and we never give up, we never stop looking.

"We do meet the owners and we do get results with a lot.”