Following the surge in so-called dognappings during lockdowns, the UK government has announced plans to create a specific criminal offence for pet theft, meaning tougher sentences than under current law.
The new Pet Abduction Offence is part of a package of measures announced on Sept. 3 to tackle the growing problem of pet thefts.
Currently, animal theft comes under the crime of property theft. That means the only criterion for tougher sentencing is the value of the pet.
“The new offence will prioritise the welfare of our pets as sentient beings and recognise the emotional distress to the animal in addition to its owner,” said a government statement accompanying the announcement.
The plans will most likely be put before MPs for a vote as part of the crime bill now before Parliament.
“Stealing a pet is an awful crime which can cause families great emotional distress whilst callous criminals line their pockets,” Home Secretary Priti Patel said in a statement.
“The new offence of pet abduction acknowledges that animals are far more than just property and will give police an additional tool to bring these sickening individuals to justice.”
The proposed law was announced as part of a report into the rise of pet thefts during lockdown.
According to the report seven out of ten animal thefts were of dogs.
“Evidence suggests that around 2,000 dog theft crimes were reported to police in 2020,” said a Home Office statement. “The price of some breeds increased by as much as 89 [percent] over lockdown as people spent more time at home, potentially making dog theft more appealing to criminals looking to profit from the spike in public interest in owning a pet.”
According to the Telegraph, those found guilty of petnapping could face seven years in prison. Under current theft laws such long sentences can only be meted over thefts worth over £100,000 ($138,000).
The report also recommended more stringent checks for microchip registration, especially for transfer of ownership, easier access to microchip databases, and better recording of thefts.
The proposals were welcomed by the RSPCA.
“Pet theft can leave families in utter turmoil and have serious welfare implications for animals ripped away from everything they know,” said RSPCA chief executive Chris Sherwood.
“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.”