- Pet Theft Taskforce delivers report with recommendations to tackle reported rise of pet theft
- Government working with the police to improve recording and tracking of pet abduction cases
- Improvements to pet microchipping processes to support the identification of lost and stolen dogs
A new criminal offence for pet abduction is set to be introduced under government plans to crack down on pet theft following a reported rise in pets being stolen during the pandemic. The new law will recognise the welfare of animals and that pets are valued as more than property. The new offence is one of several recommendations in a report published today by the Government’s Pet Theft Taskforce which was launched in May 2021. The Taskforce, made up of officials from Defra, the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice along with operational partners including the police CPS, Border Force and Local Government, considered evidence from academics, animal welfare organisations, campaign groups, enforcement agencies and industry experts. Since its establishment, the Taskforce has considered available evidence from academics (Dr Daniel Allen and Dr Helen Selby-Fell), animal welfare organisations, campaign groups, enforcement agencies and industry experts (DogLost) to help inform its recommendations. The report found that seven in 10 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 considerable distress for owners and their pets alike. The price of some breeds increased by as much as 89% over lockdown as people spent more time at home, potentially making dog theft more appealing to criminals looking to profit from the spike in public interest in owning a pet. The Taskforce’s recommendations include:
- The creation of a new ‘pet abduction’ offence – Pet theft is currently treated as a loss of property to the owner, but we know that does not reflect the true severity of this crime. The new offence will prioritise the welfare of our pets as sentient beings and recognise the emotional distress to the animal in addition to its owner.
- Identifying and tracking cases – Reliable data on pet theft is limited and improved recording and data collection about these crimes will build a stronger evidence base about the problem.
- Improving the recording of ownership and transfer data – New requirements to register additional details and a single point of access to microchipping databases will support tracking lost and stolen dogs.
- Tackling the fear of crime – Police will work together with partner agencies to raise awareness about police initiatives and prevention measures
These changes will make it easier for the police to track pet abduction incidents making it easier to clamp down on offenders. The Home Office will ensure that pet abduction is recorded in a consistent manner across police forces, while officials from each department will be able to review the way data is collected across the criminal justice system.
Pet microchip databases will also be made more accessible under the proposals. There are currently 16 microchipping databases in England, however the Taskforce found that they can be difficult to navigate for pet owners and law enforcement, making it difficult to trace stolen dogs. Under the new proposals a single point of access to all databases will simplify and streamline the system and more robust rules will also be introduced across all of the pet microchipping databases for recording the transfer of dogs to new owners to ensure full traceability.
Taken together, these proposals will make it far harder for thieves to steal and sell pets, will make it easier for the police to catch them, and will ensure that the impact on the animal is reflected in the sentences or penalties given to offenders.
The new measures will also allow the Government to capture more data on pet theft crimes and raise awareness of police activity in combatting the issue and actions owners can take to keep their pets safe.
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.”
The Lord Chancellor, Robert Buckland QC MP, said: “Many of us have sought the companionship of pets during the pandemic which makes this crime even more cruel. “These proposals will make sure police can better identify and track down criminals who peddle in this heartless trade, whilst ensuring they are appropriately punished for their actions.”
Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “Stealing a pet is an awful crime which can cause families great emotional distress whilst callous criminals line their pockets. “The new offence of pet abduction acknowledges that animals are far more than just property and will give police an additional tool to bring these sickening individuals to justice. “At the same time, police will continue to work to raise awareness about how owners can best to protect pets from being targeted.”
Taskforce partner, Deputy Chief Constable Amanda Blakeman said: “The work of the taskforce means that police forces across the country will now be better placed to respond to pet theft through an improved recording process and a specific crime that recognises pets as valued members of the family with a significant emotional impact”.“We would also encourage anyone buying a puppy or dog to make sure that they are buying from a responsible and genuine home. Advice on checks that can help buyers make the right choices is available through Blue Cross or RSPCA website.”
Iain Duncan Smith MP said: “The Government’s Pet Theft Taskforce has finally delivered their long awaited report for #PetTheftReform. This includes the recommendation made by Tom Hunt MP and I to make the theft of a pet a new criminal offence.
This announcement follows a long campaign by Stolen and Missing Pets Alliance which both, Tom Hunt MP & I, and other MP’s have been working closely with over the past year to help bring about change and make this a reality.
Following a meeting with the Lord Chancellor and the Home Secretary regarding this important issue, It now appears as though the Government has listened and recognised that this issue is a serious one and acted.
Given the significant rise in the theft of pets, especially dogs, over the past year and a half causing considerable distress for owners and their pets alike the recommendations of the Pet Theft Taskforce are very welcome and I hope the Government will accept and implement the recommendations urgently.
The Government’s Pet Theft Taskforce has made recommendations to introduce a new criminal offence for pet abduction cracking down on pet theft following a reported rise in pets being stolen during the pandemic.
This new law will recognise the welfare of animals and that pets are valued as more than property. Recommendations also include improving data collection for pet thefts to help identify and track cases, creating a single point of access to microchipping databases and outlines a framework for police engagement; all recommendations made by SAMPA and promoted by me, Tom Hunt MP plus other MPs.”
Dr Daniel Allen, Director of Animal Geography at Keele University, leading the Pet Theft Reform campaign as Patron of the Stolen And Missing Pets Alliance (SAMPA) said: Really proud of the #PetTheftReform team and grateful for ongoing public, celebrity, media, charity, political and policing support. Thank you. 4 years of positive evidence-based campaigning (8 years for SAMPA! So many stolen pets remain missing – please keep sharing and tweeting them.
Dr Marc Abraham OBE, Vet, Animal Welfare Campaigner, Secretariat for the All-party Parliamentary Dog Advisory Group (APDAWG) and Patron of the Stolen And Missing Pets Alliance (SAMPA) said: “I’m thrilled with the progress made with the Pet Theft Reform campaign. Full credit must go to the Pet Theft Taskforce for listening to the campaigners, as well as Dr Daniel Allen (Keele University) and Debbie Matthews (Vets Get Scanning), plus every single animal-lover that signed and shared the three government petitions in the last few years calling for urgent change.
As always, with any proposed new legislation, the devil is in the detail and personally I would have preferred to have also seen the inclusion of compulsory microchip scanning at a pet’s first veterinary visit, as I believe it would act as an extra deterrent to thieves at no extra cost, and of course help reunite stolen pets with their worried families.
I look forward to this legislation appearing on the statute book to help protect pets and their owners, right across the country.”
Professor John Cooper QC, Legal Advisor and Patron of SAMPA said: “Along with many others, I have been working for over 5 years to achieve this stunning success. For the first time in legal history, the law now acknowledges the special status of domestic animals and after centuries of treating them like property, grants them the status of sentient creatures, recognising their value to the millions of people who cherish them. Along with my work to bring about the Hunting Act to criminalise hunting, this is an equally seminal moment for the protection of animals”.
Beverley Cuddy, Editor of Dogs Today, CDO of Tailwise and SAMPA patron said: “At last the law will reflect that our dogs are priceless, they are family members, not mere commodities. Well done to every person who has emailed their MPs, signed petitions and used their voices.”
Jayne Hayes, Founder of DogLost and co founder of SAMPA said: “I am thrilled that after all the years of campaigning we have finally succeeded in getting a specific crime for ‘Pet Abduction’, which will give the courts to access to hand out the appropriate sentencing to work as a deterrent. Well done to Debbie Matthews and our SAMPA Patrons: Dr Daniel Allen, Marc Abraham OBE, Professor John Cooper QC and Beverley Cuddy.
The DogLost team were requested as ‘experts in the field’ to give evidence to the Pet Theft Taskforce and we continue working with Police forces up and down the country. There are so many volunteers to thank including Wayne May, Karen Harding, Nicky and Jane Frankland, this really has been a joint effort from all. Over the SAMPA years we’ve hosted many MP drop-ins, attended meetings and debates. I even managed to talk to PM Boris Johnson about the failings surrounding dog theft when I received my Shine A Light Award from the Government earlier this year.
Campaigning is not easy but every day we receive calls from devastated families with stolen or missing pets and this is what keeps us going, because we must get the changes that are needed to stop this devastating crime.”
Richard Jordan, Founder of Pet Theft Awareness and co-founder of SAMPA said: “We welcome the announcement from the government regarding the introduction of microchipping legislation and the announcement of ‘Pet Abduction’ as a specific crime. If this new crime has a minimum custodial sentence it will act as a big deterrent and have a major impact on the criminals who participate in the trade in stolen pets.”
Debbie Matthews, CEO SAMPA and founder of Vets Get Scanning said: “The Stolen And Missing Pets Alliance has been campaigning for tougher sentencing for pet theft since 2014 and launched the first of three successful Pet Theft Reform petitions with Dr Daniel Allen, in 2018, which led to the two Pet Theft debates in Parliament. Campaigning is tough but worth every second when we get the results we all wanted! We are therefore delighted with the recommendations from the Government’s Pet Theft Taskforce.
This would not have been possible without the help and support of so many – everyone who signed the petitions, emailed their MP, created, shared or tweeted a missing pet post, the newspaper journalists, the TV companies and the MPs who kept the campaign alive. Today is a really important day for families with dogs and cats.
The new ‘Pet Abduction’ criminal offence is dedicated to all the stolen microchipped dogs and cats still missing.
Arnot Wilson, The Dog Union and co-founder of SAMPA said: “The Dog Union welcomes the Taskforce’s recommendation to make pet theft a crime in it’s own right but regrets that it does not appear to recommend a maximum penalty of seven years although this is expected to be the case.
We believes that dog theft is not a numbers game and that the theft of one dog is as important as the increase in the crime which has been seen during the pandemic which forced this change to take place. The recommendation is therefore long overdue.
The reality is regrettably that whatever other recommendations are implemented that this despicable crime will continue and so dog owners should not lower their guard.”
RSPCA chief executive Chris Sherwood said: “We’re really pleased to hear the Government’s Pet Theft Taskforce recommendations. 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.” The police advise that dog owners should avoid leaving their pet unattended while out in public, vary their routines when walking their dogs and should take basic security steps at home such as checking locks on doors and garden gates. The Blue Cross has also published detailed guidance for pet owners on how they can protect their animals from theft. The Taskforce’s recommendations are part of the Government’s commitment to further strengthening the UK’s position as a global leader in animal welfare standards, as outlined in the Action Plan for Animal Welfare, and follow Defra’s recent announcement of new measures to crack down on the illegal smuggling of dogs and puppies.
- The new pet abduction offence will be brought in through primary legislation in due course
#PetTheftReform #PetTheftTaskforce #PetAbduction #FernsLaw #MakeChipsCount #ScanMe #VetsGetScanning