Cat and dog abduction bill backed by NI Assembly

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Brendan Hughes,BBC News NI political reporter https://www.bbc.com/news/articles/cevv1xvwkwko

The Stormont assembly has endorsed extending to Northern Ireland proposed legislation to make stealing cats and dogs a specific criminal offence.

The Pet Abduction Bill was introduced in the House of Commons in May and has been backed by the UK government.

It would create an offence of pet abduction, with offenders facing a fine or a maximum of five years in prison.

Members of the legislative assembly (MLAs) on Monday endorsed a Legislative Consent Motion (LCM) to enable the bill to be extended to NI.

The Pet Abduction Bill, which will apply in England, was brought forward by Conservative MP Anna Firth. 

Currently, pets are considered in law to be property and stealing a pet is covered by the 1968 Theft Act and Theft Act (Northern Ireland) 1969. The law is similar in Scotland. 

Stormont’s agriculture minister Andrew Muir, who tabled the LCM, said he supported creating a “bespoke” offence for pet abduction.

He said he understands how important cats and dogs are to their owners.

“They are part of families, they provide support and comfort when we are down and they provide companionship and joy,” he added.

“That is why it is so distressing for owners when one of their beloved pets is abducted or detained in what is a very cruel crime.”

Thirty-five dog thefts each year

Freedom of Information requests to the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) suggest an average of 35 dog thefts recorded each year, Mr Muir said.

The Alliance Party minister said there was no similar information for cat thefts.

He told MLAs the bill has a number of “safeguards and exemptions”, including a recognition of the different behaviours of cats and dogs.

“This is because the bill is only intended to deal with unscrupulous people who abduct a dog or cat,” he said.

“It does not intend to criminalise genuinely kind behaviour to cats and dogs that people do not own.”

It is much harder for a private members’ bill to become law, but the chances are increased if it secures government support.

To become law, the bill would have to pass all its usual stages in the Commons and Lords before a general election was called.

In January the UK government expressed its support for the bill.

Environment Secretary Steve Barclay said the proposed legislation would “act as a deterrent to anyone considering stealing a dog or cat”.

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