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New Dog Abduction Law

Aug 17, 2021

The coronavirus pandemic saw a huge increase in people adopting pets. During the lockdown, pets provided comfort and companionship, reducing their owner’s depression and anxiety. It is no wonder that there was an increase in pet adoptions over the lockdown period.

Regrettably, with the rise in demand for pets, the UK also saw an increase in the number of dogs being abducted. This was especially noted in highly sought after breeds, such as Staffies, French Bulldogs and Pugs. Not only has the demand for these dogs increased but along with it, the prices of these puppies have soared. In some cases, the price of puppies has quadrupled.

Many ethical breeders slowed down their breeding programs during the lockdown. The result of this was a surge in black market operations to meet the increased demand that responsible breeders (rightfully) were unable to fulfil.

For a thief, this makes dog abduction very lucrative and attractive.

According to DogLost, a UK-based website dedicated to finding lost dogs, between 2019 and 2020, the number of reported dog thefts jumped from 172 to 465. That is a 170% increase! Sadly the number of dog thieves who are prosecuted is only about 1%.

The increase in dog theft has led the UK government to review and change laws regarding dog theft.

Pets: Family, Not Property

From a legal standpoint, in the UK pets were viewed as property. Therefore reports of stolen pets would be dealt with the same level of importance as a stolen mobile phone or laptop. For the majority of pet owners, their pets are a part of the family.

When a pet is stolen, the experience can be traumatic for both the owners and the pet. Pet owners are left wondering what became of their beloved pet, and many never get the answers they seek, nor the closure. The uncertainty can eat at owners for years after their pet has been stolen.

For those who are reunited with their stolen pet, the harrowing experience often leads to a justified anxiety-fuelled paranoia to ensure their pets remain safe.

The most common place for dogs to get stolen is right out of their owners’ property, therefore owners are not only paranoid about their dogs being stolen but also about the invasion of thieves coming into their property.

As many pet owners will attest, pets are far more valuable to them than a mobile phone, for example, and the new law will reflect this.

The new law on pet abduction looks to acknowledge the “sentience of animals” as a factor for increasing the severity of criminal charges. This means that rather than base sentences on the financial value of the pet (as is the case when they are classified as “property”), the emotional impact of the theft will be the factor by which the stolen pet’s value is based. The result of this will be that the severity of the sentences will now more appropriately match the crime.

Introduction of New Pet Abduction Law

With the steep rise in dognapping incidents, charities, breeders and police have raised their voices in concern. Instead of amending existing property theft laws to prosecute pet thieves, the UK government is creating new laws.

The new law will take into account that pets are sentient beings and the great emotional impact that the theft has on both owner and animal.

Robert Buckland, Justice Secretary who is responsible for drawing up the new legislation says,

“A purpose-made new offence will mean all those who steal pets will face tougher sentences automatically. One of the problems has been that although offences under the Theft Act do carry a maximum term of 7 years imprisonment, there is no evidence that the courts have treated the offences with that level of seriousness. This is partly because when deciding upon sentencing, under our existing laws, the penalty imposed is largely determined by the monetary value of the property stolen and does not take proper account of the emotional stress and distress also involved.”

Pet Theft Task Force

In addition to the new legislation, the government has also launched a dedicated Pet Theft Task Force, as of 8th May 2021. The task force is made up of government officials, police, welfare organisations and experts. It aims to investigate factors that contribute to pet theft and to tackle them accordingly.

Understanding the motivations behind pet theft will allow the task force to curb the rise in pet theft cases. Additionally, they will be able to inform the public on risks and how to avoid them. According to the UK Government’s website:

“The Pet Theft Taskforce will:

Tips to Avoid Your Pet Being Abducted

Never Leave Your Pet Unattended: Whether on your property or while out in public, always make sure you know where your pet is at all times. Theft can happen in a matter of minutes or even seconds.

Keep Details of Your Pet Private: When bringing home a new pet, it is normal to want to share the joy of your new family member. When posting on social media, be careful to leave out information about their name, age and any telling details about their location.

Microchips & ID Tags: Microchipping your pet can greatly boost the chances of you being reunited with a lost pet. Unlike collars which can be removed or lost, microchips can carry all the relevant information for vets and shelters to find an animal’s owner. It’s also a tested method for proving ownership of a pet.

Collars are also an easy way to ensure that should your pet be found, the owners can be contacted via the number on the dog’s ID tag. Some organisations advise against including your dog’s name on its ID tag, as thieves can use this to call dogs away from their owners.

Secure Your Property: Securing your property will not only ensure that your dog cannot get out, but also that no thieves can get in.

Only Use Reputable Dog Carers: if you enlist the services of dog walkers, dog-sitters and groomers, ensure that they have a proven track record.

Hopefully, with these new measures in place, the UK will see a marked decline in pet theft, with harsher sentences deterring criminals.