Pet theft to be made a criminal offence after rise in reported thefts during pandemic – but only in England!
Pet abduction is to be made a specific criminal offence under UK Government plans after a ‘worrying’ rise in reported thefts but only in England according to the Welsh Conservatives.
They have called on the Welsh Government to “ask the British Government” to include Wales in plans to change the law to ensure that pet abduction is considered a dedicated criminal offence.
Currently, pet theft is considered a loss of property by the owner, but ministers in Whitehall are proposing a change in the law that acknowledges the emotional distress it involves.
With more people deciding to buy or adopt a pet, sales platforms have reported a considerable rise in puppy and kitten prices over the course of the past year.
According to Dogs Trust, the price for 5 of the UK’s most sought-after breeds grew significantly during the first lockdown with the price of some breeds rising by almost 90%.
Google searches for ‘buy a puppy’ increased by over 160% in the months between March and August 2020 following the start of lockdown last year.
Animal welfare charities and experts believe that price increases may have triggered a rise in pet thefts.
With the law change only occurring in England, Wales’ Shadow Rural Affairs Minister has said the Welsh Government should urgently contact the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs so that is can also be adopted in Wales.
Commenting, Welsh Conservative Samuel Kurtz MS said:“It’s great news that British ministers are looking to make this change as it truly reflects the trauma caused by the abduction of a pet. Our pets are considered a part of the family and can have a horrible effect on us, particularly children and vulnerable people.”
“Given the widespread and cross-party support this change will very likely have, there should be no reason why it would stop at the border.”
“Rather than take up the valuable parliamentary time new legislation will take up in what Labour already call an overworked Senedd, their ministers should ask to be involved the drafting process in London, allowing for simple adoption in Wales through a consent motion in the Senedd.”
“This way, those in Wales will not be disadvantaged compared to those in England, Welsh Government officials can still input into the process, and the Senedd can continue to work on other important matters without missing out on a much desired law change.”
Pet Theft Taskforce
A Pet Theft Taskforce which included UK government officials, police, and expert bodies was created earlier this year to investigate the rise in reported pet theft since the start of lockdown.
There is a high level of perceived fear around pet theft and “some people have expressed views that the police could be doing more.”
“Since the beginning of the taskforce police forces have demonstrated they are taking significant actions to address the issue of pet theft.” A report published by the taskforce states.
The taskforce found that seven in 10 of animal thefts recorded by the police involve dogs, with evidence suggesting around 2,000 dog theft crimes were reported to police in 2020.
“There is some evidence to show that there is increasing public concern about pet theft. This may be linked to increased media coverage of the issue.” The taskforce report says.
The Dogs Trust reports that in the first few months of 2021 visits to their ‘dog theft’ page increased by 780% compared to the same period in 2020.
In the context of an estimated population of 9.6 million dogs in the UK “the risk of falling victim to dog theft is low.” The taskforce has said.
However, there is growing public feeling that criminal law and the sentencing for offences involving the theft of pets do not sufficiently recognise an animal as something more than property.
Under an upcoming legislation change, stolen animals will no longer be treated as a loss of property in recognition of the emotional distress that comes from the loss of a pet.
The taskforce has recommended the “development of legislative options at pace” for a new pet abduction offence to acknowledge the welfare of sentient animals.
The policy development of the proposed new “pet abduction” offence has just begun and the details of the offence are to be determined.
“The scope of the offence should include dogs, and the applicability to other types of animal should be explored during the development of the policy.” The report states.
Although offences under the Theft Act 1968 carry a maximum term of seven years, ministers say there is little evidence of that being used, because the severity of the sentence is partly determined by the monetary value of the item taken.
It is not known what the maximum sentence for a new offence of pet abduction might be.
Other taskforce recommendations include:
– Requiring more details when registering a microchip, particular for transferring a dog to a new owner
– Easier access to the multiple microchip databases in operation to make it easier to track lost or stolen dogs
– Better and more consistent recording of pet thefts as data on the crimes is limited
– More awareness campaigns providing advice on how to protect pets.
Advice from Neighbourhood Watch to help keep your dog safe:
- Pets are easily stolen from a garden when left unattended, even if for just a few minutes. Front gardens are very vulnerable. Fit a bell or gate alarm to any rear or side gates; the gates should be secured with British Standard locks, locking bolts or closed shackle padlocks.
- Secure your garden boundary to prevent your dog from escaping or a thief from reaching in and taking your dog out.
- As well as a lock, consider fitting a bell or small alarm to outside kennels to warn you of any tampering.
- Be particularly careful of sharing or publicly posting on social media details of where you live, the type of dog you have and where you walk.
- Never leave your dog unattended in a car – especially on warm days – as it is not just dangerous for their health but allows them to be easily targeted by thieves.
- Leaving your dog alone outside a shop is another easy opportunity for a thief, even if you are only away for a minute.
- It’s important your dog will return when called; if it is not trained to do this, be very careful of allowing them off the lead, especially in unfamiliar areas. You may wish to keep them on an extending lead instead.
- Varying the times and routes you take when walking your dog.
- Be careful of strangers asking you a lot of questions when you are walking your dog – they could be distracting you to make it easy for them to steal your dog.
- If you need to use a dog walking service or kennels, make sure you check references carefully to ensure the offer is genuine or the company is trusted.
- Make sure your dog is microchipped and the details are correct on any of the recognised pet registration databases. Your dog must be microchipped by the time it is eight weeks old. For further information about the process and potential databases visit the UK government webpage on microchipping your dog.
- Fit your dog with a collar; the collar or attached tag should have a your surname and contact details – not the name of the dog.
- Make sure you take pictures of your dog from various angles, especially if they have distinctive markings or features. A further photo of you with your dog can help to prove ownership. Taking photos of your dog in various conditions can also help, such as with a groomed coat or an untidy one.
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