French bulldog puppy stolen from family home in Preston as 'designer dog' thefts surge in Lancashire
A Preston mum-of-two is "heartbroken" after her family's French bulldog puppy was stolen in a targeted raid on her home in Ashton.
Michelle Cavendish, a 36-year-old landlord, returned to her home in Tulketh Crescent shortly after 5.30pm on February 24 to find her front door had been forced open.
Fearing the worst, Michelle braced herself and nervously made her way into her home.
She said her "heart sank" when she entered the kitchen and her giddy five-month-old puppy Truffle failed to greet her.
"They had left everything - jewellery, laptop, everything you would expect burglars to take. Nothing had been disturbed", said Michelle.
"The only thing they took was the one thing we can't replace. Our little girl Truffle".
Michelle had left the grey and white puppy, which cost £2,500, home alone for a short period of time between 3pm and 5.30pm.
But in that time, dognappers managed to force their way into her home and snatch the puppy.
Michelle said: "It's absolutely heartbreaking. It's just like losing a member of your family. My two little boys were in hysterics. What do you tell them?
"I can't describe the feeling of coming home and our little girl not being there. It's absolutely heartbreaking. It hurts so much."
She said her two boys, Fox, 6, and Ralph, 2, ask her every day when Truffle is coming home.
"They don't understand what has happened. Every day they come home from school and nursery and expect to play with Truffle.
"It's been nearly a month now, but we still have her basket and toys out. It's upsetting to see them every day, but I can't bring myself to put them away.
"I'm still hopeful that we'll see her again. I'm not giving up hope.
"I know they took her because she's a dog that's in demand, and they've probably sold her to an innocent family who have paid good money for her.
"Whoever she's with now, I'm sure they'll love her as much as we do and she's being well looked after. They probably have no idea that she's been stolen.
"But we just miss her so much and want her home. She's our girl."
Michelle suspects that Truffle has been targeted by dognappers who steal "designer dogs" to sell on the black market.
"There is no doubt in my mind that Truffle was targeted. They knew exactly what they were doing when they broke into our home.
"It's frightening to think that they could have been watching us all this time. They must have been spying on our house and planning it.
"Because they were in and out. They knew our house was empty and Truffle was on her own. It makes me sick thinking about it."
In what is swiftly becoming a worrying trend, Truffle is just one of a number of puppies stolen from homes in Lancashire recently.
According to insurance company Direct Line, pet policies for certain breeds are increasing due to a national rise in dog theft and the high values attached to so-called ‘designer dogs’.
The French bulldog has grown rapidly in popularity in the UK and at such a rate that supply cannot keep up with demand.
Pedigree French bulldogs with papers often command prices of £2,000 or more and demand for the breed, and the potentially high purchase price, makes them desirable to thieves.
A spokesman for Direct Line said: "There are a number of reasons why dog theft is increasing in the UK.
"The main issues are the high values attached to so-called ‘designer dogs’, a lack of awareness of the dangers, and lenient prison sentences for those convicted of the crime."
The insurance company said that certain breeds are seen as "money-makers", which has directly led to the rising number of pets being taken.
But Michelle has not given up hope of a happy family reunion with tiny Truffle.
"I've done everything to try and find her. The police were not much help to be honest. They basically said post her picture on Facebook. That's it.
"They only came the next day and didn't seem too concerned because nothing else had been taken.
"I really think more needs to be done about dog theft. It's a serious issue that can devastate families. I know we're not the only ones, not even in Preston.
"It doesn't get the attention it deserves, but if you look at all the lost dog groups online you will see how big of a problem it is.
She believes that the dogs are victims of an organised criminal enterprise operating across the UK.
"There are dogs stolen nearly every day. And it's the same types of dogs you see time and again. It's big money and they're getting away with it."
Michelle said its important that people know how dog thieves operate and what to look out for when buying a puppy.
"Please, if you're thinking of buying a puppy, make sure you ask to see the dog's parents and Kennel Club papers.
"Ask lots of questions and if the price seems too good to be true, it probably is.
"Most of all, I'd tell every dog owner to remain vigilant and keep a look out for anyone suspicious who takes an interest in your dog."
A distraught Michelle said she will offer a "generous reward" for Truffle's safe return.
"If anyone knows where Truffle is or who took her, please get in touch. There is a reward for her safe return and no questions will be asked", pleads Michelle.
If you have seen Truffle or have information on her whereabouts, please contact DogLost on 0844 800 3220.