Rory Cellan-Jones’s dog Cabbage is rescued after desperate owners play pet detective

A veteran BBC journalist’s pet collie was rescued on Friday night after thieves stole a dogwalker’s van carrying the animal and five others.

Rory Cellan-Jones’s dog, Cabbage, was with its regular dogwalker near the 200-acre nature reserve of Wormwood Scrubs in White City, west London, when the criminals struck.

The dogwalker, Brett Holte-Smith, 45, had pulled up to knock on his sister-in-law’s door to see if she could help him walk the dogs, leaving the engine running. But in the time it took him to get from the van to the front door, thieves leapt into the vehicle and drove it away with five dogs in the back and another on the passenger seat.

As well as Mr Cellan-Jones’s 15-year-old rescue dog, the  van also contained Bouka, an 11-year-old German shepherd; Bafi, a three-year-old cockapoo that was in the passenger seat; Sam, a light brown Labrador aged 12; and two beagles, Toby, aged between nine and 12 and Bbua, aged between seven and nine.

All but one of the missing dogs was found on Friday night

The former BBC News technology correspondent who retired in August after 40 years with the broadcaster, immediately posted a plea for information on Twitter.

Cabbage was found with four of the others after some of the owners mounted a desperate search around west London. The van was also found abandoned.

Rory Cellan-Jones with Diane, his wife, and Cabbage

Several hours later, it was confirmed the final missing dog had also now been located. 

After most of the stolen dogs were recovered on the residential street of Huxley Gardens, their owners spoke of the relief they felt to see their beloved pets again.

Mr Cellan-Jones and his wife, Diane, drove to rescue their 15-year-old Cabbage right away after receiving a call from a local, Sebastian, who found the dogs just 2.5 miles from the former BBC journalist’s home in Ealing.

“One of the people here in this road found them on the street and Cabbage has got a dog tag with Diane’s phone number on,” Mr Cellan-Jones told The Telegraph shortly after arriving at the scene.

Cabbage is home! pic.twitter.com/3zDIrM6yfe

— Rory Cellan-Jones (@ruskin147) November 12, 2021

One of the six dogs in Mr Holte-Smith’s stolen van had not been left in Huxley Gardens with the other pets.

A neighbour’s CCTV footage revealed that all five of the others, all significantly older and of mixed breeds, had been let out of the black van at the same time.

Dorothy Wilkinson, owner of 12-year-old Labrador Sam called the theft “sickening” but she added that she and her two daughters felt very relieved to have Sam back.

Lisa Coonan, who was reunited with her eight-year-old beagle Toby, said: “If it wasn’t for all of that media coverage, I think it would have been a different story."

Toby, another of the missing dogs, reunited with its owner Lisa Coonan

She added: “Today has just been a nightmare and I’m happy that he’s okay.”

The dog walker’s abandoned Ford van was found on Wesley Avenue, just 2.4 miles from where the dogs were left.

After a day of desperately searching for all the missing dogs, Mr Holte-Smith said he was happy that others will “learn” from his mistake of leaving the van unattended with the dogs inside.

It took only three minutes for him to leave his van with keys in the ignition to knock on his sister-in-law’s door, before the thief in a passing by car noticed the empty van and took the opportunity to speed off with it.

“You know, for somebody else to learn through somebody’s mistake, I’m happy to walk those steps,” he said.

The dogs stolen in the heist 

  • Cabbage – Collie, 15, owned by Rory Cellan-Jones
  • Bouka – German Shepherd owned by Alexandra Psillakis, 32, that was rescued from a wheelie bin in Athens in 2010 after Alex had a night out. She is 11 years old and "because she’s a rescue dog she doesn’t like strangers"
  • Bafi – a cockapoo, aged three
  • Sam – Light brown Labrador aged 12
  • Toby – a beagle aged between nine and 12
  • Bbua – a beagle aged between seven and nine
  • Speaking about Cabbage earlier in the day and before she was found, Mr Cellan-Jones said: "She’s really old. She was a rescue dog from The Dogs Trust. We got her in 2007. She was very nervous.

    "Friends said ‘you’re mad to get a collie’ because they need so much exercise.

    "And actually, it’s been brilliant. Especially for me. I still run with her. And now we’re both slowing down for various reasons.

    "She’s slowed right down. She’s half blind. She’s quite deaf. She walks very slowly now. But she’s still gets three walks a day."

    PLEASE SHARE THIS. Our dog walker’s van with our dog Cabbage in it has been stolen while he was calling at a house in Erconwald Street near East Acton tube London W3 at 10. Please look out for a black Ford Transit reg AF20 XZD. Take a photo and DM me or just ring the police pic.twitter.com/RwtiXtgpfV

    — Rory Cellan-Jones (@ruskin147) November 12, 2021

    Mr Holte-Smith walks Cabbage twice a week and told The Telegraph that he’d never left his van running before to knock on a door, but that he couldn’t fathom that somebody would steal it.

    He said: "I wouldn’t take anything from people. I’m definitely not contemplating somebody stealing my van. My brain can’t even comprehend. What world are we starting to live in?"

    He didn’t see the van being taken, but noticed a red Audi pulling up next to the vehicle, somebody getting out and then his van being driven away "super fast".

    He said: "So you know, I’m shocked and I’m gutted, but I’m gutted for my clients.

    "I love these dogs, these dogs are my friends. It hurts. I’m trying to be positive. So that my mindset to stay positive so we could get a positive result."

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