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Highland community 'on high alert' after broad daylight Black Isle dog-napping bid leaves man injured

By Iona M.J. MacDonald

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Sam Stoner after the attack.
Sam Stoner after the attack.

A BLACK Isle man injured during a failed broad daylight attempt by an attacker to steal one of his dogs says would-be thieves would be "crazy" to try and pull such a stunt again.

Police probing the "highly unusual" Saturday lunchtime incident on the Rosehaugh Estate near Avoch have issued an appeal in a bid to track down two men in a van.

Sam Stoner (41) from Avoch was out for a lunchtime walk on Saturday with his dogs Bear, an Anatolian Shepherd (7), who was rescued from Romania, and Mollie the collie (2). Both had harnesses on without leads.

Sam Stoner and Bear after the attack.
Sam Stoner and Bear after the attack.

Explaining what happened on the walk, which wasn't his regular route, Sam said: "I heard a vehicle approaching behind me. The driver got out and asked me for the time, which looking back, was weird. He noticed Bear and asked what kind of dog he was, saying 'He's very different'.

"I said that he was an Anatolian Shepherd, and before I knew it he lunged and grabbed Bear's harness and started pulling him to the back of their van. I grabbed his harness and said: 'What the hell do you think you're doing?!' and then he hit me on the head with something quite hard and heavy.

"It dazed me and I had ringing in my ear, but I kept both my hands on the harness shouting at the man to stop. Molly then bolted in the other direction being quite a nervous dog. Then the man punched me straight in the eye. I think his knuckle actually went into my eye, so I couldn't see.

"They might have thought it would be a quick snatch, but they didn’t realise that I wouldn’t give up so easily. There was no way I was letting go of that harness. I kept a tight grip on Bear, and all I heard was the van door slam shut and speed away.

"I was dizzy and couldn't think straight, but I still managed to phone my wife and find Molly, and after seeing my injuries my wife called an ambulance for me."

After a visit to Accident and Emergency at Raigmore, it was confirmed that Sam had a concussion, severe bruising and damage to the tissue around his eye. Although his main concern was for the dogs, Sam was also worried that an issue with his sight would affect his side business drawing caricatures. But luckily, his vision has since improved.

Bear and Mollie on a walk.
Bear and Mollie on a walk.

He understands that the police haven't got any leads on the incident so far. However, members of the local community have been quick to help try and track down the attackers, with some sending Sam messages with CCTV footage of a similar van spotted in Brora and others reporting seeing the van on the A82.

Sam said: "The police told me that they think it wasn’t a targeted attempted, it was more opportunistic because Bear has got a different look. They showed no interest in the collie at all. Bear is quite a big dog, but there's no fight in him, he's very soft and completely docile. He doesn't even bark.

"When the guy spoke to me he had a local Highland accent, and I just assumed they were tradespeople, although I hadn't seen his face or the van around the Black Isle before.

"I think they would have to be really stupid or really arrogant to try this again after so much exposure. So many people are on alert now, I think they would be crazy to even attempt it again in this area.

Bear the Romanian rescue dog.
Bear the Romanian rescue dog.

"The amount of people who have reached out to me... The whole Black Isle is shocked. People have said that if the police don't find them, the Black Isle will come together and they will find them.

"My eldest daughter also usually comes with me on the dog walks, but that day she didn't and I'm so grateful that she didn't. She's only 11, and it would have probably traumatised her. There's also a lot of older and vulnerable people to who take that walk; I would like to think that violence wouldn't be used on them, but I also wouldn't have expected to be attacked in the middle of the day.

"I would warn other dog walkers to be more alert, even in the daytime."

Detective constable Shaun Cowan of Police Scotland said: "This type of incident is concerning and highly unusual in the Highlands and Islands.

"Our inquiries are ongoing, and I would urge anyone who may be able to help to come forward."

Anyone who was in the area of the Rosehaugh Estate at Avoch or who may have seen the described van or anything suspicious is encouraged to contact police on 101, quoting incident number 1531 of 25/22/23 or via Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

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