UK to crack down on dognappers with new pet abduction offence
Thieves will face tougher penalties under legislation unveiled by government after surge in crimes
Dognappers will face tougher penalties under government plans to introduce a criminal offence of pet abduction.
Pet theft is currently prosecuted under the Theft Act and is subsequently treated as loss of property to the owner, which for years campaigners have been saying fails to recognise the emotional distress caused by the crime.
Amid a surge in animal thefts during the Covid pandemic, the offence of pet abduction will be introduced through primary legislation and will cover all pet theft, although evidence found 70% of reported animal thefts involve dogs.
The new offence unveiled on Friday is one of a number of recommendations put forward by the government’s pet theft taskforce, set up earlier in the year to address the rising numbers of such cases, which found the price of some breeds of dog had increased by as much as 89% during the coronavirus lockdowns.
In a report, the taskforce also recommends improving recording and data collection about pet abduction crimes, new requirements to register additional ownership details, and a single point of access to microchipping databases.
The RSPCA chief executive, Chris Sherwood, said: “Pet theft can leave families in utter turmoil and have serious welfare implications for animals ripped away from everything they know.
“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.”
Experts and campaigners have said research has shown a 170% increase in reported pet thefts between 2019 and 2020, but that only 1% of dog theft crimes had led to a prosecution.
The price of some puppies has quadrupled during the pandemic and, as responsible breeders slowed down their operations, a black market has emerged to fill the gap in demand, they said.
Thieves have targeted “fashion breeds” and designer crossbreeds in high demand, including French bulldogs, pugs, cockapoos and labradoodles.
Dog thieves are stalking parks in affluent areas and luring puppies out of gardens with treats, while some have mugged dog-walkers for their pets and raided boarding kennels.
Ministers have yet to confirm what sort of penalties those convicted of pet abduction could face but said the new offence would prioritise the welfare of pets as sentient beings and recognise the distress to the animal in addition to its owner.
The environment secretary, George Eustice, whose department this week signed off the killing of Geronimo the alpaca, 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.”
‘The Guardian’, London.