Animal welfare organisations have welcomed the progress of a Bill in parliament introducing tougher penalties for the theft of pets.
The Pet Abduction Bill, which has been introduced as a Private Member’s Bill by Anna Firth MP (Southend West), has completed its second reading in the House of Commons.
Presently in law, the theft of a cat or dog is treated the same as any other stolen property, such as a mobile phone, with sentencing weighted according to the monetary value of the pet rather than the emotional impact of the crime. The new bill seeks to make it a specific offence to abduct a cat or a dog, with a penalty of up to five years in prison, a fine, or both, and could be extended to other pet animals in the future too. The bill will now proceed to Committee stage for further scrutiny and debate.
The RSPCA hopes stronger laws will introduce a “real deterrent to those who carry out this crime”. Head of public affairs David Bowles said: “The theft of a pet is devastating and we need tougher laws to act as a real deterrent to those who carry out this crime; cracking down on those who steal people’s much-loved animals.
“We were bitterly disappointed when plans to tackle pet theft hit the buffers when the UK Government binned its Kept Animals Bill last year – but thankfully Anna Firth MP has put this issue back on the agenda and we are delighted this law has completed second reading.
“Pets are members of the family – and it just isn’t appropriate that stealing a cat or dog is currently treated the same in law as stealing a mobile phone or other such possessions.”
The Kennel Club has long campaigned on the issue of pet theft, and statistics gathered as part of its campaign showed that just 2% of dog theft cases in 2020 resulted in a criminal charge.
Chief executive Mark Beazley said: “We wholeheartedly welcome this Bill, which would introduce a new and specific offence to tackle pet theft, and highly commend the hard and persistent work of every organisation who has been raising awareness of this issue and calling for action for many years.
“We hope that this Bill moves swiftly through parliament and helps to deliver justice for both the poor dogs and families victim to this devastating crime, and protect the nation’s much-loved pets.”
Cats Protection’s senior advocacy & government relations officer Annabel Berdy added: “No matter what the animal, pet abduction is a particularly abhorrent crime, leaving owners devastated and pets at high risk of mistreatment. Most cat owners share a deep emotional bond with their pet and consider them part of the family.
“More than 40% of all cats obtained in the last 12 months were pedigree, and this hasn’t gone un-noticed by those who want to profit in animal trade at any cost. These unscrupulous sellers will be looking to profit either by selling stolen cats to unsuspecting buyers, or keeping them to breed kittens for onward sale. Clearly, we are incredibly concerned about the welfare of these cats and kittens and this proposed law has the potential to be a much-needed deterrent to stamp out this market.”