Tougher penalties await dognappers in the United Kingdom this year after the government introduced a new criminal offence of pet abduction.
Amid a surge in animal thefts during the COVID-19 pandemic, the government has moved to introduce pet abduction as a criminal offence and will cover all pet theft, albeit 70 per cent of the cases involved dogs.
Pet theft is currently prosecuted under the Theft Act but is only treated as loss of property to the owner, which campaigners have been for years saying fails to recognise the emotional distress caused by the crime.
Chris Sherwood, chief executive officer of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said: “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.”
According to experts and campaigners, the research found that the theft cases in the UK increased by 170 per cent between 2019 and 2020, but that only 1 per cent of the theft case had led to a prosecution.
During the same period, the price of some puppies quadrupled, as breeders slowed down operations, with a black market managing to fill the gap in demand.
The report said that thieves were targeting fashion breeds and designer crossbreeds in demand, such as bulldogs, pugs, cockapoos, and Labradoodles.
Dog theft cases were said to be rampant in open areas, luring puppies out of gardens with treats, while some have mugged dog-walkers for their pets and raided boarding kennels.
Ministers have yet to specify specific penalties imposed on apprehended pet abductors but said the new offence would prioritise the welfare of pets as sentient beings and recognise the distress to the animal in addition to its owner.
Pet abduction forms one of the recommendations put forward by the government’s pet theft task force set up earlier this year to address the rising numbers of such cases, which found that the price of some dog breeds had increased by as much as 89 per cent during lockdowns.