'I still have hope she will be returned': woman’s pain after French bulldog puppy stolen in broad daylight

A NationalWorld investigation has discovered a 13% year-on-year rise in dognapping crimes

Architect Julia Radka, 25, and her boyfriend Ottie had always wanted a collection of bulldogs - one English, one French and one American.

Their American bulldog, Bella, 7, had lost her mojo since she began suffering from a poorly leg and difficulty walking.

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But when eight-week-old puppy, Winter, joined the brood, Bella found her zest for life again.

Winter the French bulldog puppy has been reported as stolen and hasn't been seen since February.

Winter was brought home to Northampton on November 6, just three months before she was taken.

“Winter made the house lively, very lively.” Julia said. “It was quiet before as we have a seven-year-old Bulldog, so we got our little Winter for Bella, as a friend, and Bella loved her.

“Bella was at her happiest since we had Winter. Now, she is constantly crying everytime she finds Winter’s toy.”

Winter was stolen from Edith Street, in Northampton, between 12.30pm and 1pm on Sunday, February 28.

Julia and her boyfriend Ottie pictured with Winter and older dog Bella.

It’s believed the puppy, which is microchipped but not wearing a collar, was snatched after she ran outside at the same time as Julia was in the process of moving house.

Winter is described as a small white dog with grey - or ‘blue and lilac’ - head markings with one blue and brown eye.

13% rise in dog theft crimes during 2020

Amid mounting concern that the coronavirus pandemic has led to a surge in puppy thefts and dognappings, NationalWorld sent Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to all 46 police forces in the UK.

These show there were 1,208 thefts recorded by the 29 police forces that responded in 2020 - a 13% increase from the 1,068 reported in 2019.

That’s an average of 23 thefts per week, which amounts to almost three more per week than the previous year.

Many incidents will involve multiple dogs being stolen at once, meaning the number of pets snatched will be higher still.

Dog theft is not a specific crime in UK law, with pets grouped together with inanimate property under general theft offences.

This means the data is not as reliable as for specific offences, because it relies on police forces being able to perform keyword searches of their records to find thefts that have involved dogs.

‘I’ve been playing private investigator’

“It’s been horrid,” Julia said of the few months since Winter was snatched. “I’ve been playing ‘private investigator’ in the evenings.

“It’s very sad and it does not get any better. People say the hardest thing is to say goodbye to a dog but it’s hard every day hoping someone will ring you to tell you they have your puppy.

“I’m having to charge my phone two to three times a day because I’m constantly checking social media comments.

“Every time I get a notification my heart stops and I think ‘where is my puppy?’”

Northamptonshire Police officers have now put their investigation into finding Winter on ice as there have been no leads to follow up on.

The force had also appealed for information to identify a man officers wanted to speak to - but the man was never identified.

‘I hope she’s being looked after’

Julia said she is constantly battling with opening her Facebook private messages because she can’t bear the feeling of lost hope if there is no new information about Winter.

“Every day when I'm on the bus to work, whether it's next to any park or where she was last seen on CCTV, I look out to see if she's around,” Julia added.

“Every time I see a little white puppy my heart starts pounding, thinking it could be her.”

Julia claims that she has also been the victim of upsetting hoax calls - of a threatening nature - which has added even more emotional plight on the family.

After two months, she is still holding out hope that someone will do the right thing and give Winter back.

“If I receive a Facebook message from a stranger I keep it unread for a while because I know the second I open it some hope will be lost again,” Julia added.

“It’s extremely sad that she is not with us, but equally, wherever she is I hope she is being well looked after.

“We are just praying whoever has her has the right mind and heart not to breed her, especially as she is due her first season shortly.

“I think the second she falls pregnant we've lost her. I still have hope that she will be returned to us.”

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