A sick dognapper tried to steal a guide dog for the blind as its owner was out walking alone with a white stick.
Maisy McAdam, a 23-year-old university student, was exercising in a nature reserve with her guide dog Willow, a six-year-old labrador-golden retriever cross, when a man tried to snatch her pet thinking she couldn’t see him lurking.
But the thief fled when Maisy, who is partially sighted, asked the dognapper what he was doing as he tried to put his own lead on her guide dog.
The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association says the attempt to steal a partially sighted person’s guide dog which they rely on to navigate roads safely “beggars belief”.
It backed calls by campaigners and dogs charities for tougher sentences for stealing dogs.
The incident comes as charities estimate dog theft has surged 250% amid lockdown – fuelled by huge demand for puppies as lockdown gives families more time to spend with their pets at home.
Debbie Matthews, 65, founded Vets Get Scanning after her dogs Widget and Gizmo were snatched. They were later dumped after a TV appeal by her late father, legendary TV host Bruce Forsyth.
Debbie said: “This is the first time I have ever heard of a dog thief trying to steal a guide dog.
“It’s absolutely disgusting. How low can someone stoop? It shows dog thefts are out of control in this country.
“The law needs to be changed now with tougher sentences for dog theft.”
Maisy, a university student, let her dog off its lead for some exercise in Hampshire when they were approached by a man who started asking questions about the dog.
She thought it unusual that he did not have a dog of his own and he was asking about its age and breed.
Maisy suddenly heard a click and spotted the suspect had pulled a dog lead out of his pocket and was trying to attach it to Willow’s collar.
Maisy said: “I asked him what he was doing and he seemed startled and jumped up and didn’t say anything. I quickly clipped on Willow’s lead and left the area.
“I went to call my mum but then got scared that the man would come back and take my phone and Willow.
“I don’t have any peripheral vision so I couldn’t tell where he was or if he was near me.
“I walked back to my partner’s house, staying on the phone to Charlie, my instructor at Guide Dogs, the whole way.”
Maisy reported the incident to the police and is still very shaken up.
She said: “I feel sick about what could have happened. I’m worried that as Willow is so friendly with people that she won’t have realised until it is was too late.
“I’m now quite nervous of going out on my own, and will probably walk more with my partner there too. “
Had Willow been taken, Maisy would have lost much more than just her companion and family member.
Maisy allows Willow to lead an independent life and was carefully matched with her by Guide Dogs after years of specialist training.
Maisy says of Willow: “She’s the best, I know I am biased but she really is.
“She’s given me so much confidence, not only to travel around by myself but to meet new people and speak up for myself.”
Last night a spokeswoman for Hampshire Police said: “We were called at just before 4.30pm on Wednesday, 3 February, to reports of an attempt theft of a guide dog.
“The victim had been walking her dog between 3.30pm and 4pm when she was approached by an unknown man.
“The man has attempted to put a lead on the dog, however the victim managed to prevent this from happening and then man left.”
Tim Stafford , The Guide Dogs for the Blind’s director of canine affairs, said: “It was obvious that Maisy was visually impaired – that shows the kind of people are about who will take dogs.
“Willow’s owner, Maisy, had a long white cane so she could stay safe and somebody comes along and starts a conversation, which is really common as people like to ask about guide dogs.
“She was having a chat to this guy and he tries to put a lead on the guide dog and take off with it. It beggars belief, it really does.”
The last incident when a guide dog was stolen was in 2014. Tess, a six-year-old black curly coated retriever went missing while out on a “free run” with her owner in Nairn near Inverness on July 23.
Despite a few possible sightings, Tess has never been traced. According to the Kennel Club, of those who acquired a new dog in lockdown, two in five bought a puppy.
The organisation recorded a near tripling in searches on its online ‘find a puppy’ tool during lockdown from March to June last year, compared with the same period in 2019.
The value of chow chows, dachshunds, pugs and bulldogs is said to be up 75 per cent since March, with the price of a pug almost doubling from £684 to £1,220.
According to the Dogs Trust, French bulldogs have seen a similar leap in value, shooting from £1,251 to £2,128.
The RSPCA said they are hearing of more attacks on lone dog owners, describing the situation as “worrying.”