Dog theft: relaunch of a popular campaign to change the kidnapping law


The man behind a successful campaign to change the law to make dog abduction a criminal offense is stepping up efforts to get it into the law books more quickly.

Although the UK government has pledged to introduce new legislation that will see pet theft officially recognized by the courts, Dr Daniel Allen said there should be no delays in approving the plans.

Thanks to the efforts of a dedicated team of volunteers behind the Pet Theft Reform campaign, founded by Dr Allen in 2018 – as well as famous dog fans such as Ricky Gervais, David Walliams and Clare Balding lending their support – the kidnapping of pets are about to be made a criminal offense.

But Dr Allen says more needs to be done to ensure people hear about the heart-wrenching stories of owners having their beloved pets stolen and the emotional impact it has on families.

These included Sir Bruce Forsyth’s daughter, Debbie Matthews, who has also been fighting to make animal theft a criminal offense since 2014 – after his own dogs were pulled from his car in 2006.

Bruce Forsyth and his daughter Debbie Matthews

Speaking before relaunching his Pet Theft Reform campaign, Dr Allen said: ‘When the government promised five-year prison sentences for animal cruelty, it took more than five years for this legislation to come into effect. establishment.

“Think about the number of dogs that could be stolen if we have to wait five years for this law to come into effect. It would just be too long to wait.

Dr Allen hopes the relaunch of the Pet Theft Reform campaign will also help generate more interest around the issue, encouraging more people to get involved in raising public awareness about stolen animals.

The law currently treats the theft of a pet the same as any loss of property, so a stolen dog would be considered a stolen laptop, says Dr. Allen.

“A kidnapped family member is an inanimate object,” he explained.

“This has had obvious implications for policing and sentencing, essentially making animal theft a low risk, high reward crime.”

Dr Daniel Allen is campaigning for tougher penalties for pet theft.
Dr Daniel Allen is campaigning for tougher penalties for pet theft.

However, that is expected to change soon under the new legislation, after the pandemic saw a huge increase in the number of pets being pulled away.

Dog kidnappings in particular have been on the rise since 2020, with demand for dogs increasing during Covid shutdowns.

According to Crimestoppers, up to seven pets have been reported stolen each day in 2020.

Demand for foreclosure is believed to be responsible for pushing dog prices to record highs, with Dogs Trust finding price increases of up to 89% for top breeds making them a more attractive target. for criminals.

Following the increase in thefts and growing concerns from activists, the government established a pet theft task force in May 2021 and pledged to introduce a new criminal offense for kidnapping. pets that “will recognize the emotional distress of the animal in addition to its owner. ”.

The government task force report also recommends reforming the way pet theft data is collected and improving the recording of microchip pet ownership; changes that the government says will “make it easier for police to track pet abduction incidents, which will make it easier to crack down on offenders.”

When relaunched later this month, Dr Allen’s Pet Theft Reform campaign will push for the report’s recommendations to be implemented as soon as possible. It is hoped that the renewed efforts will help shed light on families still searching for their stolen animals.

What is the current law on the theft of cats and dogs?

Pet theft is not a specific crime and is currently considered a loss of property for owners under Theft Act 1968.

This is because cats and dogs are treated the same as an inanimate object under the law – so stealing a dog is the same as stealing a TV or a car.

File photo of a Jack Russell
File photo of a Jack Russell

The new offense would recognize pets as sentient beings.

What is the current penalty for stealing a pet?

Although offenses against the theft law carry a maximum penalty of seven years, ministers acknowledged that there was little evidence of its use as the severity of the penalty is in part determined by the monetary value. of the stolen object.

How many animals are stolen?

Seven in ten animal thefts recorded by police involve dogs, with evidence suggesting that around 2,000 dog thefts were reported to police in 2020.

There is an estimated British dog population of 10.1 million in the UK.

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Why do people steal dogs?

The price of five of the UK’s most sought-after dog breeds rose ‘significantly’ during the first foreclosure, with the price of some rising by almost 90%.

Google searches for “buy a puppy” increased by more than 160% between March and August 2020 after lockdown began last year.

This has potentially made dog theft more “attractive” to criminals, including organized crime groups, who seek to take advantage of the rising public interest in owning a pet, the report suggests.

How could the law change?

A new offense could carry harsher sentences, with a maximum jail term of around five years.

It is believed the measure could be added to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts (PCSC) Bill which is currently under consideration in Parliament.

Other recommendations include:

  • Require more details when registering a microchip, especially when transferring a dog to a new owner;
  • Easier access to multiple databases of working microchips to facilitate tracking of lost or stolen dogs;
  • Better and more consistent recording of pet theft because crime data is limited;
  • More awareness campaigns providing advice on how to protect pets.

Ideas also considered by the working group included requiring identification for all online pet listings and allowing owners to register their dogs with the police, including photos, DNA and UV markings as well as contact and microchip details.

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