The government is set to introduce a new criminal offence for pet abduction amid a crack down on pet theft, after there was a reported rise in pets being stolen during the pandemic.
The new law will “recognise the welfare of animals and that pets are valued as more than property”, and is one of several recommendations in a report published by the government’s Pet Theft Taskforce.
The Taskforce, launched in May 2021, is made up of officials from Defra, the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice along with operational partners including the police CPS, Border Force and local government, considered evidence from academics, animal welfare organisations, campaign groups, enforcement agencies and industry experts.
Since its establishment, the Taskforce has considered available evidence from academics, animal welfare organisations, campaign groups, enforcement agencies and industry experts to help inform its recommendations.
The report found that seven in 10 animal thefts recorded by the police involve dogs, and that around 2,000 dog theft crimes were reported to police in 2020.
It comes as the price of some breeds increased by as much as 89% over lockdown as people spent more time at home.
The Home Office said it will ensure that pet abduction is recorded in a “consistent” manner across police forces, while officials from each department will be able to review the way data is collected across the criminal justice system.
Pet microchip databases will also be made more accessible under the proposals. Under the new proposals a single point of access to all databases will “simplify and streamline” the system and more “robust” rules will also be introduced across all of the pet microchipping databases for recording the transfer of dogs to new owners to ensure full traceability.
The government said that together, these proposals will “make it far harder for thieves to steal and sell pets, will make it easier for the police to catch them, and will ensure that the impact on the animal is reflected in the sentences or penalties given to offenders”.
The new measures will also allow the government to capture more data on pet theft crimes and raise awareness of police activity in combatting the issue and actions owners can take to keep their pets safe.
Environment secretary George Eustice said: “Pets are much loved members of the family in households up and down the country, and reports of a rise in pet theft have been worrying. Pet owners shouldn’t have to live in fear, and I am pleased this report acknowledges the unique distress caused by this crime.
“Its recommendations will reassure pet owners, help the police to tackle pet theft, and deliver justice for victims. We will consider its findings carefully and work with colleagues across Government to start implementing its recommendations.”
The Lord Chancellor, Robert Buckland QC MP, added: “Many of us have sought the companionship of pets during the pandemic which makes this crime even more cruel.
“These proposals will make sure police can better identify and track down criminals who peddle in this heartless trade, whilst ensuring they are appropriately punished for their actions.”