Missing cocker spaniels home at last – but dog thefts on rise
A Cornish family feared their missing puppies had fallen prey to a rise in "dog-napping" prompted in part by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's spaniel ownership.
But after a remarkable social media campaign went "viral" – with model Liz Hurley joining the search by appealing to her 376,000 followers on Twitter – the dogs were found by motorists three miles away from home.
Breeders said there has been a sudden rise in demand for black cocker spaniels since Prince William and Kate Middleton got their pet Lupo last year.
Experts have also noted a surge in incidents of the breed being stolen since the royal couple and celebrities like Hurley were pictured walking the animals, although the theft of gundogs has been a problem for some years.
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Matt and Laura Goodwin were concerned they might have become victims of dog thieves when their 20-month-old pets disappeared from their farm, near Camelford in bad weather two weeks ago.
The two children – Ollie, 6 and Tilly, 3 – were so attached to the pups that the couple had been forced to tell the youngsters "white lies" while they mounted the massive online search.
Matt, a web developer, said he was "absolutely" aware that the breed was now highly sought after.
"There is big business in working dogs being stolen," he added.
"And whilst we knew the dogs had run off, as time went on without news there was always the concern they might have been picked up and sold on quickly."
"Our biggest fear was that we would never know what had happened."
The puppies – whose names are being kept secret, such is the concern that strangers may try to steal them – wandered off from their home, near St Breward, during a storm, on January 28.
When walking the fields and whistling failed to find them, Matt logged on to his computer and began spreading the news, using Facebook to advertise the loss and placing an advertisement in the Western Morning News.
The number of people sharing the information quickly shot up, prompting a series of false alarms, until Ms Hurley sent the news global.
But it was actually the local network which paid dividends when the posted appeal was viewed by more than 2,000 people locally in 24 hours.
And in the end it was a truck driver from the nearby Davidstow Creamery who spotted the now hungry and cold dogs, six days after they disappeared, and raised the online alarm.
Then a couple who were passing by pulled over when they recognised the dogs from pictures they had seen on the internet and returned them to their owners. "It was really heart-warming, everybody got involved and people cared enough to share," Matt added. "I don't know if it would have happened quite as quickly without the police.
"A kind couple had hold of them by the side of the road then another car pulled up. The second couple exchanged all their details and proved their address and ensured our dogs got back to us."
Lyn Randall, the Cocker Spaniel Club field trial secretary, said she believed that the royal couple had driven up interest in the breed.
Pauline Reed, of Kevelek Gundogs in Cornwall, said: "They are being stolen for money but also for breeding and even as bait for dog fighting. My friend had her working cocker stolen from her garden in a very small Devon village. A few weeks later a whole litter was taken. There are very well-organised gangs out there."