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A (wo)man's best friend..

Out walking with two lively labradors is no longer a solitary, human-free amble. Lockdown has brought a surge of new pet owners seeking company and solace after weeks of being shut away.

The urge for a pet has brought with it an unbelievable increase in prices with the cost of puppies more than doubling over the past year to an average of £2,000.

Figures from the Pets4Homes website, based on about 150,000 adverts, showed the average price being asked from March to September was £1,883. During the same period the previous year the average price was £888.

Animal welfare charities have warned high prices could encourage "puppy farming", smuggling or dog theft.

Lady Gaga's two French bulldogs Koji and Gustav were stolen recently in an incident in which their dog walker was shot and injured in Los Angeles. They were found safe and well after Lady Gaga offered a $500,000 reward.

One charity, DogLost, saw reported thefts in the UK rise from 172 dogs in 2019 to 465 in 2020, as demand pushed up prices during the lockdown.

Home Secretary Priti Patel has promised to look at tougher measures to stem what she's described as an "absolutely shocking" rise in pet thefts.

Despite that, Conservative MP Tom Hunt, who's been campaigning on the issue for several months, told BBC 5 Live he felt he'd been "banging his head against a brick wall".

He says: "The Theft Act does technically allow those found guilty to be sentenced to seven years in prison but the reality is that has never happened. What we're seeing is people getting slapped on the wrist with no punishment at all."

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said last summer that the government was "satisfied" that the existing law was sufficient and had no plans to introduce a new specific offence to deal with the theft of pets.

* What do you think. Should the law be changed to make dog theft a specific offence?

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