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Taylor Homewood, who owns retailer Misshunny London, was walking 19-week-old lilac French bulldog Harley on Wednesday 17 February when she spotted a white transit van kerb-crawlng towards her, despite a 60mph speed limit in the area.
As she stopped walking, she noticed four masked men inside her van eyeing up Harley and nodding to one another, before the van came to a standstill and the men went to jump out.
But Homewood, 20, scooped Harley up and screamed, running away from them and towards another dog walker for help.
She shared a warning to other dog walkers on Instagram, with her cautionary tale racking up more than 35,000 likes and comments - with hundreds of people commenting to thank her for raising awareness of the issue.
Homewood, from North Weald, Essex, said the incident had been 'really scary', saying you want to 'put up a fight' but can never know if attackers have knives.
She recalled: "I saw this van go really, really slowly and I just had this weird feeling because he was going too slowly.
"I'm looking at them and they're looking at me. I stopped, they stopped the van, looked down at Harley, nodded and I could see [them mouth] 'yeah'.
"The man who was a passenger in the front was wearing a face mask, like the ones we all have to wear now, and the driver had a balaclava on.
"As the van door went to open I knew what was going to happen so I grabbed him, screamed for help, jumped over a ditch and ran towards a woman out walking."
Homewood believes the would-be thieves were targeting her pedigree pooch.
She continued: "I think they were trying to dognap him with a view to selling him on.
"The market demand now for dogs is higher than ever, especially in lockdown because everyone's getting dogs.
"Online the cheapest you can get a French bulldog puppy is about £1,800 and the most expensive go for about £20,000.
"The merle ones that are blue and white are no lower than £5,000, Harley's a lilac French bulldog and he's got green eyes so they've obviously looked at him and realised that."
Homewood said she wanted to share her experience online to make sure other dog walkers are being vigilant of their surroundings.
She explained her mum has now bought her a rape alarm from Amazon, adding: "I've also got a spray that stains their faces so they're easy to spot."
Essex Police said instances of dog thefts in Essex had fallen from 65 reports in 2019 to 60 in 2020.
So far this year, the force has received five reports of such thefts, with all the dogs reported to have been taken from homes or gardens.
An Essex Police spokesperson said: "At around 11am, on Wednesday 17 February, a dog walker reported that three men were seen to be acting suspiciously in a van.
"The concerned dog walker immediately left the area. No attempt to take the dog was reported.
"It is important that if you spot any activity which you believe to be suspicious, please report it to us immediately."
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