Urgent appeal launched after therapy dog is stolen in West Sussex - 'We assure the children that we won’t stop looking until we find her'
A 'trusting and kind-natured' therapy dog, which 'brought much happiness' to her owners and vulnerable people, was stolen from Sussex earlier this year.
Crimestoppers has today (Thursday, November 12) launched an appeal for anonymous information to urgently find the dog, named Hazel, after the theft, near Chichester, in August.
A spokesperson for the independent charity said: "Hazel is a beautiful one-year-old Cocker Spaniel mix, who has brought much happiness to not only her owners, but also to the many vulnerable young people and adults who have suffered from abuse, trauma and neglect who benefited from her affection and companionship."
According to Crimestoppers, Hazel was stolen on Saturday, August 15 at around 6pm around the Walderton area, six miles north of Chichester.
"A van or large vehicle was heard pulling up and a dog was heard frantically barking," the spokesperson said.
"The sound of screeching tyres that followed suggests the vehicle moved away from the scene at speed.
"It’s believed Hazel could have been moved to any of the nearby counties, such as Hampshire, including Southampton, Surrey or Kent, or perhaps to London, or maybe even further afield across the UK or Ireland."
Rebecca Taylor, an equine-assisted therapist who runs The Haven Equine Assisted Therapy Centre in Chichester, said the team was left 'absolutely devastated' by the theft.
She added: "Taking someone’s dog is kidnapping, not just theft.
"Your pets are members of your family. Hazel brings so much joy to people, especially as we work with vulnerable young people who have suffered from abuse, trauma and neglect.
"It’s really hard because the children we see in therapy have often lost trust in people and respond better to animals. Hazel was very much part of the therapeutic process to help people.
“They loved to cuddle her whilst they’re talking. She had a calming influence. Some clients even saw her born and have seen her growing up over the year. When they ask every week if Hazel is back yet, it’s heart-breaking to have to say no, though I reassure them that we won’t stop looking until we find her.
“Words fail to express just how awful it’s been as there’s every chance Hazel could have been sold on quickly to a breeder, which is why we always encourage people not to buy puppies online as this fuels the trade in stolen dogs.
"Plus there are many lovely dogs needing homes in rescue centres. If you have any suspicions or information about Hazel, please speak up and tell Crimestoppers anonymously what you know. Please do it for Hazel and for her safe return.”
Glenys Balchin, Crimestoppers regional manager for Sussex and Surrey, said stealing pets, 'normally for financial gain', is 'criminal and totally unacceptable'.
She added: "It’s so poignant and sad to think that little Hazel – who is such a trusting and kind-natured dog – is now away from her familiar surroundings and taken from people who love her and care for her.
"We are appealing for the safe return of Hazel the therapy dog and are offering a reward of up to £2,500 for information, given anonymously to Crimestoppers, that leads to her safe return."
'Shockingly', a second attempt was made recently to steal another dog in the same area, the charity said.
This incident is said to have happened on Sunday, October 18 at around 1pm, when a man with short, dark hair and facial hair, 'attempted to grab another dog'.
The spokesperson added: "The suspect on this occasion had an Eastern European accent, was aged around 30 years old, very thin, short to medium height and was wearing a royal blue sleeved jacket.
"When challenged, he claimed he was merely rolling up a cigarette and fled the scene immediately in an old Transit van with a roof rack attached."
The van was later seen nearby, going from East Marden towards Chilgrove, the charity said.
Ms Balchin said: “Please tell our charity what you know. We guarantee you’ll stay 100 per cent anonymously. Always.
"You can call our UK Contact Centre, which is open 24/7, on freephone number 0800 555 111 or you can fill out our simple and secure anonymous online form at www.crimestoppers-uk.org.
"Your information could make all the difference and reunited a much-loved pet with its owners who miss her so much.”
Information passed directly to police will not qualify for a reward. Only information passed to Crimestoppers using the simple and secure anonymous online form at www.crimestoppers-uk.org or via our freephone 0800 555 111 number will qualify.
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