A spike in pet thefts across Hertfordshire has left an animal charity "surprised" - as police issued advice to prevent it.

On Thursday, November 23, new figures revealed that more animals have been stolen across the county so far in 2023 than in any of the previous four years.

A total of 73 have been taken from their owners this year, compared to 52 in 2022, 67 in 2021, 69 in 2020 and 67 in 2019.

The figures for this year have included dogs, cats, fish, chickens, guinea pigs, birds and horses.

More unusual pets have also been stolen, including seven ball python snakes and two pygmy goats.

Jackie De Friez, centre manager for the National Animal Welfare Trust (NAWT) - which is headquartered in Watford - spoke of her surprise at the statistics and her empathy with those who have lost a pet.

"I didn’t know there had been such an increase, it's not something that we have seen more of," she said.

"The loss of any beloved family pet is heartbreaking for the family but when it is stolen it’s even harder, as the worry and not knowing if they are safe is the hardest part of the family dealing with the theft."

A spokesperson for Hertfordshire Constabulary added: “The theft of animals, especially those that are pets, can cause huge distress to victims, and where animals are stolen from farmers it can cause financial loss too.

"We do everything in our power to investigate reports of animal theft and reunite them with their owners.  

“There are a number of measures that domestic pet owners can take to help protect their animals."

They also issued advice to prevent thefts, including getting pets microchipped and potentially fitting a GPS tracker to their collar.

"Don’t put your pet’s name on their collar as it can make it easier for a thief to lure them," a force spokesperson added.

"It is also a wise idea to not only have good quality photos of your pet, but have photos of you together in case you need to prove ownership.”