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A petition, Reclassify the theft of a pet to a specific crime in its own right, is open for signatures until 8 August 2018. It has received over 100,000 signatures and is due for debate in Westminster Hall on 2nd July.
The petition calls for the monetary value of pets not be taken in to account when categorising pet theft for sentencing:
Review the sentencing guidelines for theft offences, so that where the theft of a family pet is involved, monetary value is irrelevant for the categorisation of the crime for sentencing purposes. Ensure Police Forces are given appropriate guidance and training to record and investigate cases. More than 60 dogs are stolen every week in England and Wales. Less than 5% of cases lead to convictions.
Pet theft is currently seen as no different to the theft of an inanimate object – despite pets being sentient beings. The theft of pets is generally categorised as robbery or burglary, but lead to minimal sentences. Enforcement of existing laws do not currently act as a deterrent or fit the crime itself.
For more information, please see: http://www.stolenandmissingpetsalliance.co.uk/
An article in k9 magazine sets out some of the concerns of those campaigning for a change in the law, including that:
With minimal deterrents, there are various dog theft networks working at local and national levels, specifically stealing pets for profit. Dogs are stolen to order, to sell, to breed, for ransoms and even for use as bait in illegal dog fighting. The current laws are not protecting families and not acting as a deterrent to stop pet theft.
This has been an ongoing issue of concern, as set out in a 2012 Blue Cross article about thefts, which also called for tougher sentencing. More recently a review article by Lauren Harris from the Dog Trust, published in March 2018, proposed theft of a companion animal should be treated as a separate category for sentencing purposes:
The review concludes that the Sentencing Council’s guidelines should be amended so that offences involving the theft of a companion animal are deemed to be a Category 2 offence or above. The review further proposes that “theft of a companion animal” should be listed in the Sentencing Council’s guidelines as an aggravating factor.
Further information on the Dog Trust’s proposals can be found on their website.
DEFRA has responded to the petition highlighting existing sentencing guidelines on theft, and their reference to the emotional distress caused by a theft:
We understand the distress caused by the theft of a much loved family pet and laws are in place to deal firmly with offenders who commit such crimes.
Theft of a pet is already a criminal offence under the Theft Act 1968. The maximum penalty is 7 years’ imprisonment. The Sentencing Council updated its guidelines in relation to sentencing for theft offences in February 2016. The guidelines take account of the emotional distress and therefore harm that theft of personal items such as a pet can have on the victim and accordingly recommends higher penalties for such offences. Compulsory microchipping introduced in 2016 makes it easier for lost or stolen dogs to be reunited with their owners.
The Sentencing Council guideline for England and Wales mentioned in the response, effective from February 2016, do not mention theft of pets specifically, these would be included under general theft offences. They do refer to how harm caused by theft is taken into account when deciding the sentence category, including financial loss and harm:
Harm is assessed by reference to the financial loss that results from the theft and any significant additional harm suffered by the victim or others.
The list of types of harm to be considered which could be applicable in cases of pet theft includes “items stolen were of substantial value to the loser – regardless of monetary worth” and “emotional distress”. A recent Parliamentary response, explained this further:
Asked by: Duffield, Rosie
To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, whether his Department has assessed the potential merits of introducing a new criminal offence of theft of a pet.
Answering member: George Eustice
Theft of a pet is already a criminal offence under the Theft Act 1968. The maximum penalty is 7 years imprisonment. The Sentencing Council updated its guidelines in relation to sentencing for theft offences in February 2016. The guidelines take account of the emotional distress and therefore harm that theft of personal items such as a pet can have on the victim and accordingly recommends higher penalties for such offences.
HC Deb 22 February 2018 | PQ 128027
Statistics on Pet Theft
There are no official statistics available on either the number of pet theft offences, which are not recorded separately from other thefts, or prosecutions relating to pet theft specifically. There are no official statics on the number of dogs in the UK. Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK that provides some official statistics, as it reports on the number of licences issued under its compulsory dog licencing scheme. However, the Pet Food Manufacturers Association estimate is that there were 8.7 million dogs in the UK in 2017.
Some information on dog theft has been gathered in response to Freedom of Information requests made to Police Forces. The most recent figures were published by the Direct Line insurance group who reported a 7% increase in dog theft in England and Wales between 2016 and 2017: from a total of 1,788 dog thefts in 2016 to 1,909 in 2017. This equate to 34 dogs stolen a week in 2017. The table below also gives details of the top 10 most stolen dog breeds:
Similar information was reported by The Insurance Emporium in their March 2018 blog article Dog Theft Knowing the Risks. The Insurance Emporium article also notes that 29% of dogs were stolen from their owners’ gardens.
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