More than three-quarters of dog owners say they are more scared of walking their pet because of the heightened risk that it will be stolen, according to a major new police study.
A total of 124,729 people responded to the landmark online survey with an overwhelming majority saying that dog theft was a “serious problem”, and thieves should face stiffer sentences.
The survey, conducted by Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne in partnership with the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, comes amid growing evidence that dogs have become a target for criminals.
DogLost, a UK charity that helps victims of dog theft, recorded a 170% increase in the crime, from 172 dogs reported stolen in 2019 to 465 dogs in 2020.
There was also strong support for changing the law to reflect the emotional impact of having a pet stolen.
At present, dog theft is not defined as a specific crime, with dogs classed as ‘property’ under the Theft Act 1968.
If caught, the penalty for stealing pets is generally a small fine or suspended sentence, with the Pet Theft Reform campaign reporting that in recent years only 1% of dog theft crimes have led to a prosecution.
According to the survey, 87% said that where pets provide their owner with companionship, sentencing guidelines should reflect this and disagreed that the theft of a pet should be categorised under property theft.
Dr Daniel Allen, an animal geographer at Keele University, who set up the Pet Theft Reform campaign with the Stolen and Missing Pets Alliance in 2018, said: “The number of survey responses shows the extent to which the public are concerned about dog theft crime. Further research is needed to build the ‘evidence base’ and inform the response to dog theft moving forwards.”
The Home Secretary Priti Patel has said in recent media interviews that she will review pet theft, with potentially tougher penalties for perpetrators.
The survey, the largest ever conducted by PCCs, will now be used to help shape police recording and response to dog theft and could also influence how the crime is defined.
Key findings from the survey:
> 97% said that dog theft is a serious problem.
> 22% have had a dog stolen or knew someone who had over the last year.
> 79% of people to whom the question was applicable said they had grown more fearful of taking their dog for a walk during the day.
> 83% have grown more fearful of taking their dog for a walk at night.