IT started as a single dog theft, moved on to several thefts, increased to a gang of thieves preying on suburban backyards and morphed into illegal dog-fighting mobs crashing through fences to get ‘‘bait dogs’’ for their fighters.
The Facebook whispers quickly turned into rumour-mongering across all forms of social media about the presence of dog thieves roaming streets from Medowie to Toronto and out past Muswellbrook.
Problem is, there has been no such mob.
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Police have become so frustrated about the snowballing of misinformation that they have been forced to take down some Facebook sites and give public warnings about a lack of evidence.
The Newcastle Herald discovered that there had been 20 reports of dog theft across the Hunter since the beginning of the year.
Of those, 14 dogs either returned home themselves or were found and brought home. All were uninjured and none displayed any signs of being stolen.
Another reported stolen dog, a bulldog called Tank, went missing from a Rutherford home before being found dead on the side of a road a fortnight later.
Tank had several small marks to his neck, but an autopsy later showed that he died from a bacterial infection.
The five other reports included dogs disappearing from Maitland, Telarah, Raworth, East Maitland and Muswellbrook.
‘‘Since Tank’s disappearance and subsequent death, Central Hunter police have been investigating reports of so-called dog-fighting rings, operating throughout the Hunter Region,’’ a police statement said.
‘‘Many of these reports have been made via social media, and have been found to be based on rumour or speculation.
‘‘At this stage, police investigations have found no evidence that dogs are being stolen and used in organised dog fights.’’
There were also reports of ‘‘suspicious’’ utes, complete with dog cages on the back, being driven around everywhere from Medowie to the Upper Hunter.
Even number plates were put on Facebook.
Police have spoken to one man, an avid pig hunter, and are comfortable he has not done anything wrong.