Animal charities have urged people to watch their dogs carefully after a spate of disappearances and suspected thefts throughout the country.

Animal and dog groups believe suspected dog thefts are linked with a bigger demand for dogs during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Lynne Cullen, administrator of 'Missing Dogs Ireland' - a Facebook page with over 15,000 members - said dog disappearances are at a level she has never seen before.

She said: "I am doing this ten years now. The last few weeks it has just got out of hand. It is actually like a pandemic of missing and stolen dogs. Every single hour of the day somebody’s dog is gone - missing, stolen, never to be seen again."

Fine Gael Councillor in Galway Pete Roche, who has miniature Jack Russell dogs and occasionally breeds litters, said he believed the numbers of dog disappearances are linked to a bigger demand for dogs in Ireland and the UK.

He said prices online have "gone through the roof".

He added: "For example, there is a phenomenal demand for miniature Jack Russell pups. Before the pandemic you would have paid between €100 or €150 for a pup.

"Right now on websites selling dogs they are asking in the region of anywhere between €600 and €1,000. They are asking for three times as much for other breeds."

Mr Roche said he will raise the issue at Galway County Council's Joint Policing Committee.

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Galway based dog charity Madra is also concerned about dog thefts.

Director and co-founder Marina Fiddler said: "Unfortunately dogs have always gone missing or been stolen but it does seem to have ramped up a lot at the moment.

"We are very concerned about the fact that the price of dogs is rising and that they are seen as so lucrative now.

"This will encourage people to steal or to take dogs that they find and not give them back."

The DSPCA said more people decided to get dogs during the pandemic because they were at home more.

The increased demand means prices have gone up and it said there is an increase in the numbers of animals going missing, but said it has not been inundated with reports of stolen dogs.

"We are always concerned when animals go missing. If there is now a trend of people stealing animals we have to be very concerned," said spokesperson Gillian Bird.

Gardaí say they are aware of the situation and have urged people to watch their dogs.

The Garda National Crime Prevention Unit has issued general advice for dog owners, which includes ensuring dogs are microchipped and not left alone in open areas.

Meanwhile, a Dublin-based family has issued an appeal for their missing 11-year-old Jack Russell who went missing 16 days ago.

Lisa Davitt said 'Jack' went missing on Monday 22 June.

"He just disappeared. We feel he was taken.

"He is a very valued member of the family. We are petrified he is upset," said Ms Davitt who said she hopes her dog was not taken for a breeding farm or dog fighting ring.

"I am praying that is not happening to him. We are heartbroken. We are truly devastated, worried and crushed. I miss him. I need my Jack back," she said.