Sussex’s Police and Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne, in partnership with the APCC, has created an online survey designed to understand the public’s perception of dog theft, enforcement, and the prosecution of offenders.
The survey includes a question seeking views on whether companion animals should be treated in law as sentient beings, not merely as property. Having a common data set of responses will help inform discussions PCCs will have nationally and allow police forces to better understand the public’s views.
Mrs Bourne said: “Pet theft, dog theft in particular, is a growing concern for the public and their fear has been perpetuated over the last couple of weeks with shocking reports in the media of more dogs being snatched by criminals.
“I am incredibly eager to get more detail around this issue and understand residents’ views and if they feel more could be done to respond to their concerns or for more preventative measures to be put in place to better protect their pets.
“I’m pleased to see the Home Secretary recognising the devastating impact of this crime and I hope that the results of this survey will give the Government the evidence it needs to take more robust action against perpetrators.”
The survey is open to anyone across England and Wales. The deadline to have your say is Friday 12 March.
RESULTS ARE IN:
124,729 people responded to the landmark online survey with an overwhelming majority saying that dog theft was a “serious problem” and thieves should face stiffer sentences.
The survey, conducted by the Thames Valley Police & Crime Commissioner in partnership with the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, comes amid growing evidence that dogs have become a target for criminals.
DogLost, a UK charity that helps victims of dog theft, recorded a 170% increase in the crime, from 172 dogs reported stolen in 2019 to 465 dogs in 2020.
Key findings from the survey:
- 97% said that dog theft is a serious problem
- 22% have had a dog stolen or knew someone who had over the last year
- 79% of people to whom the question was applicable said they had grown more fearful of taking their dog for a walk during the day
- 83% have grown more fearful of taking their dog for a walk at night
There was also strong support for changing the law to reflect the emotional impact of having a pet stolen.
At present, dog theft is not defined as a specific crime, with dogs classed as ‘property’ under the Theft Act 1968.
If caught, the penalty for stealing pets is generally a small fine or suspended sentence, with the Pet Theft Reform campaign reporting that in recent years only 1% of dog theft crimes have led to a prosecution.
According to the survey, 87% said that where pets provide their owner with companionship, sentencing guidelines should reflect this and disagreed that the theft of a pet should be categorised under property theft.
Dr Daniel Allen, an Animal Geographer at Keele University, who set up the Pet Theft Reform campaign with the Stolen and Missing Pets Alliance in 2018, said:
“The number of survey responses shows the extent to which the public are concerned about dog theft crime. Further research is needed to build the ‘evidence base’ and inform the response to dog theft moving forwards.”
The Home Secretary has said in recent media interviews that she will review pet theft, with potentially tougher penalties for perpetrators.
The survey, the largest ever conducted by PCCs, will be used to help shape police recording and response to dog theft and could also influence how the crime is defined.
About a third of respondents said they would like their local police force to take dog theft more seriously, rating them as poor at responding to their concerns; 48% said they didn’t know how effective their local force was in this area.
Deputy Police & Crime Commissioner and Conservative Candidate, Matthew Barber said: “Police forces across the country need a ‘flag’ for reports of dog theft on their systems as currently it is extremely difficult to track this crime trend and put in place an appropriate police response
“I will be speaking with my Chief Constable about how we can use this data to inform future enforcement and preventative measures that we put in place.”
“I would like to thank everybody who took part in this unique survey which elicited such a huge public response. Pets are part of people’s family and the devastating emotional impact of this crime should no longer be overlooked.
“There is a clear message that police forces need to communicate better with the public on this issue. Public perception and fear have increased massively, so much so that nearly 83% of respondents are scared of walking their dogs at night.
“The Association of Police & Crime Commissioners is working with the Home Office to discuss the findings and how we can develop measures that will protect people’s pets and boost public confidence.”
This fourteen-question survey was conducted online via Survey Monkey and ran for three weeks from 19th February to 12th March. It was advertised across social media through PCC’s channels nationally, via other Government bodies, the mainstream media, Neighbourhood Watch networks and others such as Dogs Lost also helped in the promotion. The results were collated by the APCC.