DOG thieves are stealing pets to order in Cheltenham – before breeding them and selling puppies for up to £600.
Animal welfare workers in the town say there has been an increase in the number of dog thefts in the area in recent months – with springer spaniels, Labradors and golden retrievers among the most targeted.
Maria Butler, who runs Animal Magic pet care and dog walking services, in Darwin Close, Fiddler's Green, issued a warning urging pet owners to be on their guard.
She said: "Dog theft is becoming more and more of a problem. We have heard of lots of cases in Cheltenham and the wider area in recent months.
"We think some dogs are being stolen to order. Thieves are doing the deal to sell a particular breed of dog, then going out and stealing one which matches that description.
"It is probably down to the amount of money dogs are worth.
"A Labrador puppy, for example, can be worth £600."
National organisation DogLost, which works to reunite owners with lost and stolen dogs, said 3,600 dogs had been reported stolen in the past.
The organisation estimated it has dealt with more than 150 stolen dogs in Gloucestershire since 2008.
Deb Barron, who works at Cheltenham Animal Shelter, said she had been involved in four cases of dog theft in the area in the past three months.
"The kind of dogs targeted most of all tend to be working dogs, such as springer spaniels and Labradors," she said.
"It makes me nervous when I see a dog left tied to a lamppost outside a shop because they are so vulnerable."
Debbie urged dog owners to get their pets microchipped.
According to the Missing Pets Bureau, as many as 60 per cent of pets reported stolen are never recovered.
Tim Morgan, from London Road, in Cheltenham, was heartbroken when his Staffordshire bull terrier Charlie was stolen after he left him tied up outside a shop in 2011. Thankfully he was tracked down.
"It was a devastating experience and something I wouldn't wish on anyone," he said.
Police urged anyone with worries about the safety of their pets to contact them.