Figures released by pet insurance brokers DirectLine have revealed that the most commonly stolen dog is the Staffordshire Bull Terrier.

Of the 1,909 dog thefts in the UK last year, 210 were Staffies, and the fear is that most of these thefts are to fuel the demand for bait dogs to use in fighting.

These figures are up 7 per cent on the previous year and works out at an average of five dog thefts every day. In Staffordshire alone 2017 saw 76 dog thefts, and only three cases where the dogs were thankfully reunited with their owners.

Of the 210 Staffies taken last year, 11 were stolen from Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire where the breed is particularly popular, although, in 2016 in the same region, the most commonly stolen breed was the French Bulldog.

Cassie Fletcher, who has volunteered at Animal Lifeline for 30 years, expressed surprise that the figure had increased.

“You hope these things get better but in this case it hasn’t, but you don’t expect it to go up that drastically,” she said.

“It’s no surprise French Bulldogs are being stolen that much – it’s supply and demand. They are the fashion so more are being bred so more will be stolen.

“Crossbreeds such as Cockapoos I’m sure will be the next fad and people will steal them to suit the demand.”

“Some people will be buying them unknowingly, but some people will know they are stolen. Staffies might be stolen to be bait dogs or for fighting and that to me is the worst thing ever.

“It must be heartbreaking for families who have a dog stolen. A dog in a good home is no different than a family member. I wouldn’t be able to rest if one was stolen from me – people are looking for dogs several years down the line.”

Founder of Pebbles Legacy Dog Rescue Mick Brace remarked that the fact only three cases were resolved is “astonishing”.

“I am quite surprised from the figures, but people are supposed to have their pets microchipped,” he said.

“I’m not surprised that Staffies are the most stolen dog as they are used as bait dogs in dog fighting rings.

“People will tie their dogs up outside the shops and they will be there one minute and gone the next. They will be ripped apart just for training purposes.

“It’s so tragic they can end up like that. Words can’t express the madness of what people do – it’s such a sick world.”

DirectLine Pet Insurance, who compiled the figures, said pedigree owners needed to be particularly vigilant.

Prit Powar, the company’s head of pet insurance said: “Having your dog stolen is one of the most distressing things a pet owner can face, particularly as animals are often considered to be members of the family.

“There is no excuse for the theft of an animal but some of the reasons behind dog theft include using the animal for dog fighting, breeding or selling on.

“The rise in popularity of ‘designer’ dog breeds among celebrities and the ‘fashion’ for certain types of dogs means people are willing to pay thousands for an animal, which unfortunately makes them prime targets for thieves. Pedigree owners need to be especially vigilant.”