A pet owner discovered 70 stolen dogs locked in cages by a suspected crime gang after he launched a search for his own missing spaniels.
Pet-breeder Tony Cronin began his investigation after his two litters of puppies and five spaniels vanished from his home in Carmarthenshire, west Wales.
After receiving a tip-off about one location, Mr Cronin drove to the spot to discover 70 stolen dogs worth up to £40,000 in cages.
Dyfed Powys Police said 22 dogs have since been returned to their owners and 46 remain in kennels.
The pet owner discovered 70 stolen dogs at the site in Carmarthenshire, west Wales. Pictured: Some of the dogs that were discovered by police at the site
Dyfed Powys Police said 22 dogs at the site have since been returned to their owners
Pet-breeder Tony Cronin (pictured) received a tip-off about one location in Carmarthenshire and decided to investigate for himself
Two arrests were also made at the site in Carmarthenshire, the force added.
Mr Cronin said: ‘It was very really well hidden which is why they use it, and as we were going up the track a huge group of dogs came out to greet us.
‘There were Westies, Labradors, Pugs – everything running at us barking like mad.
‘Right in the middle of the group was one of my own dogs running towards me, her tail was between her legs as she was frightened.
‘She was quite timid and then she saw me and she ran towards me and leaped into my arms and that was that.’
The discovery comes after figures showed a spike in dognapping cases amid the lockdown.
In 2020, the cost of puppies more than doubled, with volunteer service Dogs Lost reporting a 170 per cent increase in stolen dogs.
The group, which reunites missing dogs and their owners, said more than 320 cases were reported to police between January and August last year.
Dyfed-Powys Police have set up a task force called Operation Rhinestone in an effort to tackle the rising number of dog thefts.
Police have now made two arrests and have also set up a task force called Operation Rhinestone
Police discovered dogs locked in cages when they arrived at the location in west Wales
Mr Cronin had been searching for his his two litters of puppies and five spaniels when he made the discovery. Pictured: Mr Cronin’s spaniel (left) and his puppies (right)
Superintendent Robyn Mason, of Dyfed Powys Police, said: ‘Dog theft has certainly increased with more people wanting dogs during the pandemic.
‘The cost of dogs is going up which means there’s more traction for people to steal the dogs and sell them so it has definitely increased over the last year.’
The RSPCA has also warned pet owners against fraudsters posing as animal welfare officers.
A spokesman for the charity said: ‘We would like to remind and reassure the public that our inspectors and rescue officers all wear branded uniforms and carry identification.
CCTV images showed a white van speeding down a lane away from the property
‘If one of our officers knocks on your door, please ask to see their ID and check their uniform for branding.
‘Our staff wear navy blue uniforms with the RSPCA logo, as well as white shirts with a black or blue tie and black epaulets.’
Two people arrested in connection with the 70 dog thefts have been released on bail.
The raid is set to feature on Welsh channel S4C’s current affairs programme Y Byd ar Bedwar – meaning The World at Four, at 8.35pm tonight.