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A ‘pet abduction’ offence proposed

Last year’s lockdowns prompted highly-publicised cases of anguished pet owners having their animals stolen, as criminals exploited demand for pets during the pandemic restrictions. Now a new criminal offence for pet abduction is proposed by the Home Office.

That’s among recommendations in a report published by the Government’s Pet Theft Taskforce, launched in May. The group was made up of officials from Defra (the Department for the Environment), the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice besides the police, Crown Prosecution Service, Border Force and local government, that took evidence from academics, animal welfare and campaign groups and enforcement agencies.

The report found that seven in ten of the animal thefts recorded by the police involve dogs. Evidence suggests that around 2,000 dog theft crimes were reported to police in 2020, causing distress for owners and their pets alike. The price of some breeds increased over lockdown as people spent more time at home, potentially making dog theft more appealing to criminals.

Pet theft is in law treated as a loss of property to the owner. The new offence will cover the welfare of pets as sentient beings. The Home Office admits that reliable data on pet theft is limited and police record and collect little data about these crimes, making any solving of cases difficult by the authorities, which last year prompted victims of pet crime to search for themselves, online.

A survey by the APCC (Association of Police and Crime Commissioners) early this year covering England and Wales found public demand for something to be done.

The Home Office wants pet abduction recorded in a consistent manner across police forces. Pet microchip databases will be made more accessible under the proposals. There are 16 microchipping databases in England; the Taskforce found that they can be difficult to navigate for pet owners and law enforcement, making it difficult to trace stolen dogs. Proposed is a single point of access.

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.”

Comment

RSPCA chief executive Chris Sherwood said: “The new Pet Abduction Offence will acknowledge the seriousness of this crime and we hope this will encourage courts to hand out much tougher sentences to pet thieves. We’re also thrilled that the Government wants to simplify the microchipping database system and we believe this will help to tackle pet theft as well as other animal welfare issues and irresponsible pet ownership generally.”

The Blue Cross has published guidance for pet owners on how they can protect their animals from theft. Visit https://www.bluecross.org.uk/pet-advice/protect-your-dog-against-theft.


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