A pretty amazing thing happened to me this week, and friends have asked me to share the story to highlight the power of social media.
I set out for a walk in Hyde Park with my daughter and our two dachshunds, Jura and Islay, entering at the Knightsbridge Gates. Islay did her usual thing, spotted a squirrel and tore off. Within minutes, although perhaps only 50 yards away at the top of a slope, we looked round and she had disappeared. After calling for a few minutes we split up and started searching – in the wrong directions as it happened. Meanwhile, Islay, we subsequently learnt from two police witnesses, had been stolen. Approaching the Knightsbridge Gate towards the French Embassy, Islay must have momentarily escaped the thief. He then chased after her and apparently there was a commotion with traffic and bikes.Two policeman, armed with guns, were about to go on duty at the French Embassy and they actually intervened and asked the man, who had managed to recapture Islay, if it was his dog. He had confirmed most emphatically that she was indeed his dog so he was allowed to move on, with Islay under his arm.
We have all read that dog napping is rife and happy endings are few and far between, so mother and daughter suddenly had an awful sense of foreboding. We reached the police in their red police transit van near the French Embassy about five minutes later and blurted out our loss. Shown a photograph, they said that they thought they had seen Islay and explained about the earlier commotion. They told us to wait and immediately did a circle of the area in their police van looking for the man. We waited, increasingly distressed, and logged a crime reference when the police returned empty handed. We could tell by their faces that they did not think we would get her back. She had been microchipped but her name tag had rubbed through and broken off two months previously and we had not got round to replacing it.
It just felt like the worst thing that had ever happened to me. Thanks to my children, a good friend was waiting for me as I returned home in a state of helpless panic. We launched into action, contacting the Vet’s Surgery, Battersea Dogs Home, the National Pet Register, Street Line RBKC and others, keeping in contact with the police. The kindness and empathy of the people we contacted was incredible – the loss of a dog resonates with so many – and the thought of her on the way to a puppy farm, or worse, seemed absolutely terrible. Meanwhile my children were scouring social media and spreading the word with a picture of Islay. My daughter-in-law, quite early on, cleverly spotted a post from someone called Mark, who had seen someone behaving strangely with a ‘brown dog’ in the Brompton Road. The police warned us that people are sometimes cruel on social media and lead people up a blind alley, but when a three-second video recording was sent through an hour later we could see it was Islay under the thief’s arm.
It suddenly gave us hope. Islay had indeed been stolen but was still alive, not dead or 100 miles away in a van. Meanwhile another resourceful, media savvy friend was getting a huge response on social media. People were just incredibly responsive and proactively helping us. After five long hours, and a number of leads, the man and Islay were spotted outside The Crown in Brewer Street. The pub owner, informed by someone in the offices opposite, called us (by this time my mobile number had been given out on social media) warning that the thief was on edge and being unpredictable. This was no professional dog napper: sadly he was a drug addict and an alcoholic, trying to extract money in any way he could to fuel his habits. We begged the pub owner to try and detain the thief and hot-footed it to Brewer Street, no doubt breaking some road rules on the way. Once there, I ran to the pub entrance, where the thief was in sight and starting to move away. As he crossed the road, I simply went up to him, shaking like a leaf and said: “Please may I have my dog back”. There were a number of people around and he calmly handed her over to me, complaining about the poo she had done ten minutes ago on his lap (clever girl!) and, of course, wanting money.
I have confirmed to the police that I will not be pressing charges. Islay had not been harmed and she was with us again. The key lessons from this horrible experience are that it is really important to get on to social media as soon as possible, and to move quickly if leads come through. We don’t always like social media but this time it came up trumps.
Resident of Warwick Square