Pet theft is to be made a criminal offence under new government plans to crackdown on dognappers.
The plans will ensure that the law reflects the severity of crimes carried out by pet thieves, taking into account the emotional distress it can cause the animal, as well as acknowledging pets represent far more than just property to their owners.
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Pets are ‘more than property’
It is hoped the plans will help police to crackdown on criminals and make it easier for officers to track such incidents.
The tougher law should also make it harder for thieves to steal and sell pets.
At the moment, pet theft is not a specific crime and is considered only as a loss of property to owners under the Theft Act 1968.
However, the new law would instead recognise pets as more than inanimate objects.
The proposal for the change is just one of several recommendations made in a report setting out the findings of the government’s pet theft taskforce, which was set up in response to the rising number of dog thefts during the Covid-19 pandemic.
It also comes following pressure from MPs across the Commons to impose tougher penalties on thieves.
While offences under the Theft Act carry a maximum term of seven years, ministers have acknowledged there is little evidence of that being used because the severity of the sentence is partly determined by the monetary value of the item taken.
RSPCA chief executive Chris Sherwood welcomed the plans to acknowledge the “seriousness” of the crime, saying he hopes it will “encourage courts to hand out much tougher sentences to pet thieves.”
Environment Secretary George Eustice said the reports of a rise in pet thefts have been “worrying” and owners should not have to “live in fear”, adding that the recommendations should “reassure” them.
2,000 dog thefts in 2020
The taskforce, which is made up of government officials, police, prosecutors and councils, assessed evidence from animal welfare organisations, campaign groups and academics.
Its report found that seven in 10 animal thefts recorded by the police involve dogs, with evidence suggesting around 2,000 dog theft crimes were reported to police in 2020.
With the Uk dog population estimated to be around 10.1 million, the risk of theft is considered to be low, but the report acknowledges the emotional impact of having a pet stolen is “undeniable”.
Findings in the report indicated that the price of the UK’s most sought-after breeds grew “significantly” during the first lockdown last year, with the price for some rising by almost 90 per cent.
Google searches for “buy a puppy” also increased by more than 160 per cent between March and August 2020.
It is thought this potentially made dog theft more “appealing” to criminals, including organised crime groups, looking to profit from the growing interest in owning a pet.
What did the taskforce recommend?
The findings from the report recommend the new, tougher laws are developed “at pace”.
Previous suggestions the new offence could lead to tougher sentences, with a maximum jail term of around five years are yet to be confirmed.
It is thought the measure could be added to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts (PCSC) Bill which is going through Parliament.
The report also recommended requiring more details from owners when registering a microchip, particularly when transferring a dog to a new owner, easier access to microchip databases to make it easier to track lost or stolen dogs, and more awareness campaigns offering advice on how to protect pets.
Better and more consistent recording of pet thefts was also advised, as current data on the crimes is limited, along with requiring proof of ID for all online pet adverts and allowing owners to register their dogs with police, including photos, DNA, ultraviolet markings, and contact and microchip details.
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