CAMPAIGNERS have spoken of their shock after “astounding” figures revealed the scale of dog thefts in south Essex as a concerned MP stepped up her fight for a new law to crack down on pet abduction.

Latest data from Essex Police has revealed a breakdown of the number of dogs stolen in theft or robbery crimes in each district across the county from January 2018 to December 2023.

Across Basildon, Castle Point, Rochford, Southend and Thurrock, a total of 158 dog thefts were reported.

The most incidents recorded was in Thurrock in 2021, which saw 27 incidents. A total of 407 incidents occurred across the whole of Essex.

The data comes as Southend West MP Anna Firth’s Pet Abduction Bill - designed to clamp down on pet thefts - cleared the Commons and is now being scrutinised by the House of Lords.

The Bill removes pets from being in the same legal category as inanimate objects and, if it becomes law, would make dog and cat abductions specific offences with perpetrators liable for a fine or time in prison.

Echo: Crackdown pledge - MP for Southend West Anna FirthCrackdown pledge - MP for Southend West Anna Firth (Image: Anna Firth)

On the statistics revealed by Essex Police, Ms Firth said: “Any pet being stolen is one too many. Cats, dogs and other pets are not just items, and abducting them causes real distress to families and individuals.”

A recent incident in Benfleet saw thugs jump out of a van and attack a pensioner as they tried to steal his dog.

The Tilly’s Angels community group was set up in 2016 by Helene Leader and Ann Cushion, to help reunite lost or stolen pets with their families.

Speaking of the number of incidents across south Essex, Ms Leader said: “The amount of dogs being stolen is astounding. We at Tilly’s Angels will always support owners in trying to recover their dogs, giving advice and helping to make the dog “Too Hot to Handle” by sharing the individual crime on social media.”

Ms Leader also said she has noticed a “massive increase” in missing cats and hopes the new law coming in June, making it compulsory to have cats microchipped from 20 weeks, will help tackle the problem.

Ms Firth’s Pet Abduction Bill was passed its Commons stages this month.

She said she hopes the Bill will help in tackling ongoing pet thefts.

“I am delighted the Pet Abduction Bill is now heading to the House of Lords,” said Ms Firth. I hope my hugely important bill will soon become law, adding even more protections for our beloved pets.”