A new criminal offence of pet abduction is set to be introduced under plans to crack down on pet theft following a reported rise in pets being stolen during the pandemic.
The new law will recognise the welfare of animals and that pets are valued as more than property.
The new offence is one of several recommendations in a report published today by the Government’s Pet Theft Taskforce, which was launched in May this year. The Taskforce – made up of officials from Defra, the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice along with operational partners including the police CPS, Border Force and local government – considered evidence from academics, animal welfare organisations, campaign groups, enforcement agencies and industry experts.
Since its establishment, the Taskforce has considered available evidence from academics, animal welfare organisations, campaign groups, enforcement agencies and industry experts to help inform its recommendations.
The report found that seven in 10 of the animal thefts recorded by the police involved dogs. Evidence suggests that around 2,000 dog theft crimes were reported to police in 2020, causing considerable distress for owners and pets alike. The price of some breeds increased by as much as 89% over lockdown as people spent more time at home, potentially making dog theft more appealing to criminals looking to profit from the spike in public interest in owning a pet.
The Taskforce’s recommendations include:
n The creation of a new ‘pet abduction’ offence – pet theft is currently treated as a loss of property to the owner, but that does not reflect the severity of this crime. The new offence will prioritise the welfare of pets as sentient beings and recognise the emotional distress to the animal in addition to its owner
n Identifying and tracking cases – reliable data on pet theft is limited and improved recording and data collection about these crimes will build a stronger evidence base about the problem
n Improving the recording of ownership and transfer data – new requirements to register additional details and a single point of access to microchipping databases will support tracking lost and stolen dogs
n Tackling the fear of crime – police will work together with partner agencies to raise awareness about police initiatives and prevention measures.
Pet microchip databases will also be made more accessible under the proposals. There are currently 16 microchipping databases in England but the Taskforce found that they can be difficult to navigate for pet owners and law enforcement, making it difficult to trace stolen dogs. Under the new proposals a single point of access to all databases will simplify and streamline the system and more robust rules will also be introduced across all of the pet microchipping databases for recording the transfer of dogs to new owners to ensure full traceability.
Taken together, these proposals should make it far harder for thieves to steal and sell pets, will make it easier for the police to catch them and will ensure that the impact on the animal is reflected in the sentences or penalties given to offenders.
The new measures will also allow the Government to capture more data on pet theft crimes and raise awareness of police activity in combatting the issue and actions owners can take to keep their pets safe.
Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “Pets are much-loved members of the family in households up and down the country and reports of a rise in pet theft have been worrying. Pet owners shouldn’t have to live in fear, and I am pleased this report acknowledges the unique distress caused by this crime.
“Its recommendations will reassure pet owners, help the police to tackle pet theft, and deliver justice for victims. We will consider its findings carefully and work with colleagues across Government to start implementing its recommendations.”