More than 138,000 people have signed an online petition calling for stronger penalties against dog theft in Scotland.

The petition was started after a new dog owner grew concerned for her own welfare, saying she felt unsafe walking her young puppy.

As the cost of puppies has skyrocketed over the course of the pandemic, with prices rising as high as £3,500, Michelle Boyd found reports of violence and attempts at dognapping were also on the rise.

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The recent surge in demand for puppies has also led to an increase in puppy farms with apparent links to organised crime.

Ms Boyd, from Balloch in West Dunbartonshire, said she only expected to get 5,000 signatures.

HeraldScotland: Ms BoydMs Boyd

She explained: “I looked into it and I saw that the penalties for dog thefts are completely inadequate – if someone steals your dog it’s treated the same as if they steal your mobile phone and the most common penalty’s usually a £250 fine.

“I just started the petition to see how much traction it would get; the point behind it is a view to trying to get sentencing for people that steal dogs to be much more appropriate and for the crime of dog theft to be a specific crime.

“Particularly in the pandemic dogs are companions to people that live on their own, they’re part of the family, one of the few things you could do during the pandemic is walk your dog and you didn’t even feel comfortable doing that because you were scared, somebody was going to leap out of a van and steal them.

“I’ve had support from a local politician who is prepared to offer more once the election is over but I would really like to see it go to parliament and be properly debated, and the for the justice department to look at what sentences are being handed out.

“The bill was passed about increasing sentences for animal cruelty to go from a minimum of six months to now it’s five years so there is a wee bit of momentum about this.”

Ms Boyd said she would wait for her husband to go out on walks with the dog, rather than going out alone.

She added that some friends will not let their children walk their dogs because of fears which has “spoiled the experience”.

The petition, which has attracted much interest, has also encouraged others to share their stories - including people posing as BT engineers and marking people’s houses as part of dognapping schemes.

However Ms Boyd also said she has heard of people taking matters into their own hands to avoid being the victim of a dog theft.

HeraldScotland: Luka, owned Michelle Boyd who has started a petition calling for stronger penalties against dog theft in Scotland after concern for her own welfare grew while out walking a new puppy she got just seven months agoLuka, owned Michelle Boyd who has started a petition calling for stronger penalties against dog theft in Scotland after concern for her own welfare grew while out walking a new puppy she got just seven months ago

She said: “A lot of people when I’m out walking my dog say how scared they are, but also people are slightly taking things in their own hands and then arming themselves.

“One lady I bumped into in the park was walking her dog carrying a cooking blowtorch and I said to her ‘if you use that on somebody the penalty for that will be far worse than the person that tries to steal your dog’.

“People are doing that because they feel that there’s no option – very often when a dog is stolen the police are reluctant to even treat it as a crime and it is a bit of a struggle to get a crime number out of them.

“What needs to happen I think is a concentrated effort that when a dog’s stolen it goes on to national register and that can be communicated widely across the country because these dogs are being stored and moved.”

The petition can be found online here.