Walk down the main street on Perranporth – one of Cornwall’s busiest tourist resorts – and you are likely to see a small black nose sticking through the railings outside a trendy barbers shop.
That is the greeting offered to all folk who come within range of tiny Lola – a 10-year-old Patterdale terrier who loves nothing more that an ear rub, a back scratch or the odd tasty morsel handed out by her adoring public.
Lola is a tourist attraction in her own right - popping in and out of owner John Morrilly’s ‘Gentleman John’s’ barbers throughout the day.
But last week Lola became big news for all the wrong reasons when an opportunist thief decided they liked her so much they would take her home for themselves – cruelly ripping her from the safety of a loving home.
And it was only thanks to the tenacity of owner John and dedication of Falmouth-based police officer Leane Webb that Lola’s ordeal had a happy ending and she was found during an arrest over 300 miles away in Essex.
Lola went missing on Tuesday, June 8, and after a day of frantic searching John reported her missing the following day.
PC Webb immediately set about checking and securing CCTV from various locations near to the theft, including town CCTV, the nearby Green Parrot pub and the Premier Stores. She also called each venue to gather intelligence.
She quickly established that CCTV at the pub did show the alleged theft and identified two vehicles. This information was then circulated by the Police National Computer and Social Media.
Further information was also received which produced better facial photos of the suspect and it finally paid off when, on Saturday, June 12, Essex Police found the vehicle and liberated Lola safe and well.
A man was arrested and has been bailed to Newquay in July.
Lola’s owner John Morrilly recalled the day she was taken from outside his barber’s shop.
John said: “It was a warm sunny day outside, lots of tourists about, and I had the front doors open so Lola can sit outside the front of the shop or come in and sit on customers knees.
“I noticed she was sitting, quite content outside the tearoom next door and I was just shaving somebody’s head when I realised that I couldn’t see her.
“I thought she’d just walked down the road to see a dog she knows or say hello to someone - she always comes back.
“I put my head out and she wasn't in sight so I walked to the corner and still nothing. I got the other barber to continue cutting the guy’s hair and had a walk around the block - but everyone I asked said they hadn’t seen her.
“By now I was starting to panic. She’s such a happy, friendly little dog she would have gone up to the first person that showed her a bit of attention.
“We searched the whole of Perranporth for hours and nothing - not one sighting - and I sort of knew at that point that she'd been stolen.”
After a whole day with no sightings, John reported Lola’s disappearance to the police and was contacted by local officer PC Leane Webb.
John said: “She was amazing - she's got dogs of her own and was really interested in trying to help.
“We did everything we could at that point to try and get some CCTV and we managed to get some footage from a local pub which actually showed a guy carrying Lola across the car park putting her in a motor home and driving off.
“I was angry when I saw that - I thought how dare they take her. She doesn't belong to them, they've got no feelings towards her. I haven't got any kids or anything but she is my little rock, she comes everywhere with me. She's been through lockdown with me and break-ups. How dare somebody do that.”
While the police investigation continued, John launched a campaign of his own on social media.
He said: “A soon as we knew that she'd been stolen I shared descriptions - even number plates - and within about 24 hours we had about 10,000 shares on the post. By the end of it we had 20,000 shares and I had people sending me dashcam footage of vehicles that match the description.
“People were driving around the country trying to find her and I appreciate every little bit of help because I knew that if the people who had taken her were on holiday in Cornwall we needed to find her before they get back home.
“I even started driving around Cornwall looking for the vehicle, looking for the person that I'd seen on CCTV.”
And it all paid off when two days later John got a phone call with good news.
John said: “I was in Newquay searching when I took a phone call from Essex Police asking ‘have you lost a little dog’? At first I thought it was a wind up, but they said they had got little Lola and she was safe and happy.
“I was so happy. The following day I jumped in the car and drove up to Essex to collect her. When we first got her you could tell that she's a bit stressed but within half an hour she was relaxed again. I think she knew she was going to be okay. I was over the moon because suddenly to see her and see her tail wagging again.
“Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to properly thank Leane as she was off-duty when we got Lola back but we did speak on the phone on the Tuesday.
“I wouldn't expect every police officer to go to the extent that she did but I'm happy that she did. She really made Lola her priority and I think the police need to do that every time.
“Dog theft is a horrible thing. It does affect people and in fact Lola’s story really has affected the whole town. Perranporth is a safe place to be with animals and pets and I had so much support from people.”
Chief Inspector Rob Curtis, is Devon and Cornwall’s lead on dog theft and says the force is listening to the public’s concerns about the matter.
He said: “Whilst it may not be volume crime it certainly has a huge impact on the victim. The police understand the emotional connection between a dog and its owner. A dog isn't just property like a mobile phone or a laptop.
“We also need to reassure the public that dog theft is still a very, very rare crime. On average over last five years, have been 70 dog thefts per year across Devon and Cornwall.
“That said when it does happen the impact on individuals is huge and I am very pleased, that in this instance, there was a happy ending.
“Although dog theft is a rare crime, there are things you can do to prevent them from becoming a victim of crime and there is a whole host of information on the Devon and Cornwall Police website.
“This is a national issue and I want to reassure the public that we are absolutely engaged with forces across the country so, as we have seen in this and other cases, we will work together and share intelligence, not just to reunite dogs with owners, but so that we collectively understand the impact.
“I think the will of society needs to define our legislation and actually what we've seen in Lola’s case is that dogs are not just property. As I said earlier it’s not like having a phone stolen, a dog is a member of someone’s family and it’s important that the legislation reflects that.”
Chief Insp Curtis urges all owners to visit their vet and have their pet microchipped with all contact details kept up to date in the event of moving home or changing a phone number. Microchipping is not only a legal requirement but is essential in helping to return pets back to their rightful owners.
Police and Crime Commissioner Alison Hernandez, who has made dog theft a priority for her newly elected term of office, believes the Force’s swift response highlights how seriously they take the issue.
“I am so pleased that Lola has been returned to John. I can imagine how frantic he must have been and it is great that he found support in such a dedicated officer as PC Webb,” said Commissioner Hernandez.
“The effect of this crime is devastating on the families that have their pet stolen. That’s why I and fellow police and crime commissioners carried out a survey to understand people’s views including how concerned they were about dog theft, how well they thought the police were tackling it and whether there was support for tougher penalties for thieves.
“Currently the law treats an animal as just another piece of property, but we think they are more than that. Most dog owners see their animals as part of the family.”
The Government has recently set up a task force to see if there is evidence which supports claims that pet theft is increasing, if criminal enterprise is fueling this and if the law dealing with pet theft is ineffective.
The taskforce will gather evidence from stakeholders and experts such as animal welfare charities and, while much of the narrative is around dog theft, the taskforce will look at pets as a whole.
“In Devon and Cornwall there is no evidence to suggest a significant increase in dog theft,” said Commissioner Hernandez.
“Our calculations suggest that there is a 0.07% chance per 100,000 of population of a dog being stolen.
“Those that are stolen are mainly taken from insecure gardens/properties, insecure vehicles, or theft by finding, whilst tied up outside shops or whilst dogs are loose off the lead.
“Cases where there is a threat of violence to take the dog as very rare.”
Facts and figures
- There has been an average of 70 per year for the past five years and 2017/18 was the highest with 84
- In 30% of reported dog thefts the offender/suspect knows the victim and related to a dispute over dog ownership.
- 12% are domestic related.
- 9% are missing/lost dogs presumed stolen.
- In 29% the offender is not known to the victim and 12% of these are 'attempts'.
How you can help keep your pets safe
At home make sure your garden is secure, try not to leave your dog outside unattended, be careful of bogus callers or displaying signs that say, ‘my poodle lives here’ and ideally install security lighting and CCTV outside your property, or if you cannot afford it, simply display signs warning that you do. Do not leave your dog unattended outside shops or in an insecure car.
If your dog does go missing it is important to establish if it has been stolen or is simply lost. Check with your neighbours and ask them to check their gardens and garages.
If you still cannot find your dog, check with the local dog warden, tell the microchip company your dog is missing and call local vets and rescue centres.
In the unlikely event that your dog is being stolen and someone is physically taking your dog from you, shout that your dog is being stolen and attract attention. If you can take photos or videos and report it to the police by calling 999.
If there are any witnesses nearby, ask for their contact details and report your missing dog to the microchip company.
For more information visit dc.police.uk/dogsafety