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Who did this?

Mum told 'pay £1,000 or we'll slit your dog's throat'

By Phil Norris & Hannah Molnar

A family say they have been contacted by a gang member who claims to be holding their support dog hostage and is threatening to kill him. They say three-year-old Chihuahua mix, Stan, went missing after allegedly being attacked on a walk.

Rachael Albans, 54, and son Harry, 21, who suffers from epilepsy, are also reeling from the sudden death of Rachael's mum, who had a heart-attack while out of the country. Stan, and brother Snoop, had a key support role for Harry as both dogs are self-trained in epilepsy support, WiltshireLive reports.

The loss of Stan on Harry's life has been 'horrendous', Rachael said, with more seizures and hospital admissions, Snoop now hides rather than helps Harry when paramedics arrive, she said.

Rachael says life began to fall apart in February when she took Stan and Snoop out for a walk and the pair were attacked by another dog. During the chaos Stan had come out of his collar and bolted - the family don't know if he was injured, like his brother, who remains traumatised, according to Rachael.

Since the incident, the family have done everything in their power to retrieve Stan, reaching out to the online community, displaying flyers and working with animal charities who have provided resources such as drones, trappers and sniffer dogs. There have been several supposed sightings of the support dog, which have turned out to be small foxes, as there is a likeness between the two.

Rachael said: "It's been a rollercoaster of emotion. We still have people calling up with possible sightings of Stan. Motion detecting cameras remain in place where reports have been recorded and we continue to follow up every lead. We're leaving no stone unturned, but it's just a mystery. We haven't had a positive sighting since the day he went missing."

Harry with Stan (Rachael Albans/BPM MEDIA)

Rachael also claims an unidentified gang, which has reportedly been harassing missing dog owners nationwide, began contacting the Swindon family shortly after Stan went missing. Rachael said she was warned by an animal charity that she would likely be contacted by someone claiming to have Stan, who would identify his characteristics, where he was last seen, and other information available online in shared appeals.

Rachael said: "When he first rang me, I just listened to see how it would play out - he told me he had Stan and that I had to send him £500 and then he'd meet me to give Stan back and I'd have to pay another £500. He said 'If you're not prepared to pay, I'm just going to slit his throat because I don't want him,'" Rachael added. The gang member has since continued to contact the family in a series of harassing phone calls generally around 2am and 3am from a locked number.

"As there's been a police enquiry, and when they ring, it shows 'No Caller ID' we normally answer these phone calls, and so have fallen pray to the fraudster's calls," she said. "This guy is a part of a gang, and this is happening everywhere, I think some more vulnerable people have fallen pray to the threats and have payed the ransom believing they have their dog. Although I know he doesn't have Stan, he just keeps coming back, he doesn't give up - it's horrible."

For this family, the impact of Stan being missing is not only heart-breaking because he's a family dog, but has had a significant impact on Harry's physical and mental health, as well as his studies. According to his mum, he has spent more time at home, than at university since Stan went missing and has been forced to defer his exams. Harry is also experiencing increasing seizures, while his remaining support dog is grieving his brother and remains traumatised by the attack, unable to help Harry efficiently.

Harry with beloved support dog Stan (Rachael Albans/BPM MEDIA)

A month after Stan went missing and the threatening phone calls began, Harry's grandmother suffered a sudden and fatal heart-attack while on holiday aboard. Rachael had to buy tickets and fly out there, in the midst of all the chaos at home and grieve for her mother. Speaking to anyone who may know about Stan's whereabouts, Rachal said: "Please read his background story and get him back to where he needs to be.

"This has impacted the whole family, from a dog to a child - I have been off work for ten weeks and have only just returned. To think this all began at that moment of madness, when a dog owner let his aggressive dog off the lead and it was all over within a second or so - and there has had a ripple effect and which has caused all this heartache. If anybody has got any information, anything at all - all we want is Stan home."

A Wiltshire Police spokesman said: "We have received a report of potentially fraudulent or upsetting phone calls in relation to people claiming to have located a lost dog. We have logged the relevant information, including submitting an intelligence report on the matter, and given the reporting person crime prevention advice."

Reports of crooks demanding ransom money for animals they don't actually have have been spreading since the pandemic puppy boom. Justine Quirk, from DogLost told the Express in October 2021: "These people are the lowest of the low. It's a new way of preying on very vulnerable people. These are the kind of despicable criminals that would target the elderly with distraction burglaries and con them in their homes."

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Dive Deeper:
Inquest hears of ‘missed opportunties’ in Gaia Pope-Sutherland’s care
The teenager, who had severe epilepsy, was found dead near cliffs 11 days after she went missing from her home…
Gaia Pope inquest: family repeatedly told police to search clifftop, jury told
The 19-year-old’s body was finally found near Dancing Ledge, a clifftop spot in Dorset, 11 days after she vanished
Gaia Pope-Sutherland inquest hears of calls made to police
An inquest was played a series of calls made by the teenager’s aunt to police in the hours before she…
Sick mum pretended she was fine at daughter's wedding
Kelly was first told she had epilepsy before she was told that she had a brain tumour
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Brave mum kept brain tumour secret after learning news the day before daughter's wedding
Kelly Doran, from Garston, went to the hospital with her husband, Gareth, where she was told she had a brain…
Young dad, 21, died after jumping into river to save dogs
Ryan Wells was walking his dogs in the early hours of March 28, 2020
Get all your news in one place