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New criminal offence to be introduced for pet abductions

Criminal Defence

A recent report published by the Government’s Pet Theft Taskforce found that around 2,000 dog theft crimes were reported to police in 2020, causing considerable distress for owners and their pets.

With people spending more time at home during lockdown, many made the decision to purchase a pet. According to the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association, a total of 3.2 million households in the UK have acquired a pet since the start of the pandemic. The price of some breeds increased by as much as 89% over lockdown, potentially making dog theft more appealing to criminals looking to profit from the spike in public interest in owning a pet.

What is the new criminal offence?

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 offence of “pet abduction” is being introduced following Ministers concluding pet theft could not be drawn in the current theft act, as pets cannot be valued in the same way as property, they are in fact much more sentimental than a phone or laptop. It aims to offer harsher sentences for pet theft as the current law does not recognise the severity of the crime.

Why is a new pet abduction offence being introduced?

The increased demand for dogs during the pandemic led to a price inflation, potentially making this an appealing factor to criminals who were looking to make a profit. It has been widely recognised the current law does not reflect the emotional consequences of losing an animal. Home Secretary Priti Patel notes “Stealing a pet is an awful crime which can cause families great emotional distress whilst callous criminals line their pockets”.

Sentencing guidelines

The changes that have been made in terms of making pet abduction a more serious crime will assist the police when punishing the perpetrators. New requirements to register additional pet details and a single point of access to microchipping databases will also support tracking lost and stolen dogs.

The new offence will allow courts to impose longer prison sentences, replacing current theft laws where long terms are only possible in cases of high financial value. The new offence will also allow for an animal cruelty element to be incorporated which isn’t possible under current theft laws.

How can you protect your animals from theft?

Identification is an important aspect of keeping your animals safe. Microchipping with up-to-date contact details is a great way to keep them safe. If your pet is wearing a collar do not display their name on it as this makes it easier for thieves to lure them in. It is important to take lots of photos with your pet in case you need to prove ownership.

Be careful when dealing with strangers and your dog, this can be anything from strangers asking questions about your dog or even trying to stroke them, always be cautious. It is important to always be aware of your surroundings whether that is at home or out and about. If you are in the garden at home always watch your pet and ensure your garden is secure as this is often where thieves abduct pets.

Social media is another way thieves can gather the information they need to abduct your pet. Be wary of how much information you share online. Online privacy settings are also important in ensuring strangers can’t access your personal data.

What to do if your pet is stolen?

It is important to act quickly if you believe your pet has been stolen, call 999 straightaway. Report your theft to the microchip database and the council’s local dog warden. Putting up lost dog posters in your local area e.g. the vets or park is a good idea to spread the word and can help to gather any information regarding the theft.

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