A woman has issued a tearful warning to pet owners after four masked men tried to snatch her puppy from her arms in broad daylight – and she now walks him armed with a rape alarm and defence spray.
Taylor Homewood, 20, from North Weald, Essex, was walking 19-week-old lilac French bulldog Harley home after a short stroll at 11am last Wednesday morning when she spotted a white transit van kerb-crawling towards her despite a 60mph speed limit.
Immediately uneasy, Taylor stopped walking and noticed four masked men inside the van eyeing up Harley and nodding to one another.
As the van came to a standstill and the men went to jump out, she scooped Harley up into her arms, screamed and ran away from them towards another dog walker.
Taylor Homewood, 20, from North Weald, Essex, was walking 19-week-old lilac French bulldog Harley home after a short walk at 11am on Wednesday morning (February 17) when she spotted a white transit van kerb-crawling towards her despite a 60mph speed limit
Taylor stopped walking and noticed four masked men inside the van eyeing up her puppy Harley (pictured) and nodding to one another
Taylor, who owns online retailer Misshunny London, shared a tearful warning to other dog walkers on Instagram following her ordeal and urged others to be vigilant.
The cautionary tale has racked up more than 35,400 likes and comments, with hundreds of people commenting thanking her for raising awareness by sharing her experience.
Taylor said: ‘It was a really scary experience. You’re not just going to give your dog up, you’re going to put up a fight and you don’t know if these people have knives.
‘The road I live on is 60mph, people go fast down that road, it’s not normal they go slowly.
‘I saw this van go really, really slowly and I just had this weird feeling because he was going too slowly.
Taylor, who owns online retailer Misshunny London, shared a tearful warning to other dog walkers on Instagram following her ordeal and urged others to be vigilant
‘I’m looking at them and they’re looking at me. I stopped, they stopped the van, looked down at Harley, nodded and I could see [them mouth] “yeah”.
‘The man who was a passenger in the front was wearing a face mask, like the ones we all have to wear now, and the driver had a balaclava on.
‘As the van door went to open I knew what was going to happen so I grabbed him, screamed for help, jumped over a ditch and ran towards a woman out walking.
‘They drove off really, really slowly while I got my phone out of my pocket and called my mum who came out to see what was going on.
‘If that woman was not standing by the side of the road God knows what would have happened, because it happened so quickly, it was all over in a matter of seconds.’
The cautionary tale has racked up more than 35,400 likes and comments, with hundreds of people commenting thanking her for raising awareness by sharing her experience
Dog lover Taylor said she believes the masked would-be thieves, who were travelling in a white van with sliding doors and a roof rack, were targeting pedigree pooch Harley in the hope of making a quick buck.
Taylor said: ‘I think they were trying to dognap him with a view to selling him on.
‘The market demand now for dogs is higher than ever, especially in lockdown because everyone’s getting dogs.
‘These dogs are expensive and he’s a puppy so they know he’s not going to be neutered.
‘Online the cheapest you can get a French bulldog puppy is about £1,800 and the most expensive go for about £20,000.
‘The merle ones that are blue and white are no lower than £5,000. Harley’s a lilac French bulldog and he’s got green eyes so they’ve obviously looked at him and realised that.
Dog lover Taylor said she believes the masked would-be thieves, who were travelling in a white van with sliding doors and a roof rack, were targeting pedigree pooch Harley in the hope of making a quick buck
‘I normally feel safe. I was only out for about seven minutes, not even that. I was just taking him for a quick stretch of his legs and a toilet break.
‘When this happened I was just a 30-second walk away from my house.’
As the van drove off, Taylor’s mum came rushing out and it was then she burst into tears.
Taylor, who’s had Harley since he was 12 weeks old, said: ‘As soon as my mum came out of the house and I saw her I just burst into tears.
‘In the moment you don’t feel upset but when you go indoors and think about what happened it really hits you.
‘Harley had no idea what was going on but he got loads of hugs and kisses when he got in.’
Taylor, who’s had Harley since he was 12 weeks old, said: ‘As soon as my mum came out of the house and I saw her I just burst into tears’
Taylor said: ‘It was a really scary experience. You’re not just going to give your dog up, you’re going to put up a fight and you don’t know if these people have knives’
Taylor said she felt compelled to share her experience to make sure other dog walkers are vigilant of their surroundings.
Taylor said: ‘I made the video because I want to warn people this is happening. These people need to stop doing it and be caught.
‘That morning it was the first time I’d been out [to walk him] by myself but I thought “I’ll be fine, I’m only going to go up the road” and then it did happen.
Dog thefts double as pet prices soar during pandemic
The number of dogs stolen during the past year in Britain has doubled, making it the worst year ever for the crime, the volunteer service DogLost claims.
The group, which reunites missing dogs and their owners, says the thefts have left thousands of families devastated as pets are snatched from gardens and cars – and even during walks.
More than 320 cases were reported to police between January and August last year, the organisation said, up from 170 during the whole of 2019.
Experts say the demand for canine companions has boomed under coronavirus restrictions, forcing the value of some breeds to triple.
It means criminals have targeted the most lucrative animals – which can be sold on or even kept for longer-term gain by breeding puppies from them.
Justine Quirk, who volunteers with DogLost, said: ‘Dogs are sadly now very appealing, either to those that want to make quick money by selling them on or to keep them for breeding, knowing that their puppies will be worth a lot.
‘Currently, pet theft is a low-risk, high-reward crime and sadly, thanks to the perceived increase in value, our dogs have never been at more risk.’
The group says calls to its helpline have shot up by 125 per cent during the past year.
‘I just don’t want it to happen to anyone else; if that woman wasn’t there what could have happened?
‘If people ask, I’m fine, but when you’re sitting there and thinking what could have happened, especially at night, it’s scary.
‘My mum bought me a rape alarm from Amazon and I’ve also got a spray that stains their faces so they’re easy to spot.
‘I made the video because I want to warn people this is happening – these people need to stop doing it and be caught.
‘Harley is such a little bubble of joy, a real ray of sunshine. I take him everywhere with me. Why are they taking away a member of someone’s family? It’s like kidnapping a child.
‘Why would you put a family through that? Just because they want a couple of grand in their pocket.’
In the Instagram video Taylor said: ‘Hi everyone, I hate to say it… To make this video I’ve had to put a filter on because I look… I’ve been crying.
‘I literally took my dog, which you’ve probably seen on Instagram, my little Frenchie. I took him for a walk, literally opposite my house and I literally walked about five minutes because he got tired and I was on the way back and I saw a white van pull really slow.
‘And obviously I’ve seen people say… you know these dogs are getting stolen, any sort of dog is getting stolen now, so I automatically picked him up anyway. And then the van stopped and pulled next to me and there were four men in the car.
‘They all had masks on and they looked at my dog Harley and stepped out of the van so I screamed and started running and then luckily there was a woman on the opposite side of the road as well, which I’m so grateful for and she grabbed me.
‘It was just so awful to think that I was two seconds away from my house and this could happen to everyone and I’m just so grateful there was this woman… near me because she helped.
‘You don’t think it’s going to happen to you on a Wednesday morning at 11 o’clock literally next to my house. So please if you’ve got any sort of dog just don’t, just don’t walk them because it’s just so awful the world we live in at the minute, that people are just stealing your pets, it’s just so awful.’
Essex Police said instances of dog thefts in Essex had risen from 65 reports in 2019, to 60 in 2020.
So far this year they have received five reports of dog thefts, with all of the dogs reported to have been stolen from homes or gardens.
An Essex Police spokesman said: ‘At around 11am, on Wednesday 17 February, a dog walker reported that three men were seen to be acting suspiciously in a van.
‘The concerned dog walker immediately left the area. No attempt to take the dog was reported. It is important that if you spot any activity which you believe to be suspicious, please report it to us immediately.’