Pet theft is not a specific crime and is currently considered a loss of property to owners under the Theft Act 1968. The new offense would recognize animal companions as sentient beings.
Although criminal offenses have a maximum sentence of seven years under the Theft Act, ministers have acknowledged that there is little evidence, as the severity of the penalty is determined in part by the monetary value of the stolen item.
The task force, made up of government officials, police, prosecutors and councilors, examined evidence from animal welfare organizations, campaign groups and academics.
The report found that seven out of ten animal thefts recorded by the police involve dogs.
Although the risk of theft associated with an estimated UK dog population of 10.1 million
Citing information from Dogs Trust, the results showed that the price of five of the UK’s most sought-after breeds rose “significantly” during the initial lockdown, with the price rising nearly 90% for some.
Google searches for “buy a puppy” increased by over 160% in the months between March and August 2020 after the lockdown began last year.
This potentially made dog theft “more attractive” to criminals, including organized criminal groups, who wanted to capitalize on the increased public interest in owning a pet, the report said.
The results recommend that the laws be developed “at the pace”.
Previous proposals for the new offense could lead to tougher sentences, with a maximum prison sentence of around five years still to be confirmed.
It is believed that the measure could be added to the Police, Crime, Conviction and Justice (PCSC) bill going through parliament.
Further recommendations are:
– Requiring more details when registering a microchip, especially when handing over a dog to a new owner
– Easier access to the various microchip databases that are in operation to facilitate tracking of lost or stolen dogs
– Better and more consistent tracking of animal theft as data on crime is limited
– More awareness campaigns with advice on how to protect pets.
Ideas also considered by the task force included requiring proof of identity for all online pet advertisements and allowing owners to register their dogs with the police, including photos, DNA and UV tags, and contact and microchip details .