The government has decided not to create a new law making pet theft a crime in its own right, following a parliamentary debate on 2 July.
More than 106,000 signed a petition to reclassify pet theft, with concerns raised that the current penalties for the crime are not enough of a deterrent.
Currently, pets are considered property rather than sentient beings and the theft of a pet is classified as a robbery or a burglary, similarly to objects. The maximum penalty is seven years imprisonment.
Led by Labour MP Mark Hill, several MPs shared their accounts of the impact the theft of a dog had had on them, with many claiming that pets were regarded by their owners as members of the family rather than possessions.
Pet theft has seen a sharp increase recently, with dog theft rising by 6.8 percent in the last 12 months.
Conservative MP George Freeman said: “More than 2,000 dogs a year are stolen, that only five percent of thefts lead to a conviction and that a dog has to be proven to be worth £500 to count as property.”
However, the decision to reclassify the law was consequently rejected.
Minister George Eustice said that “at the moment the government are not convinced that [it needs] to change the law”, adding: “The Theft Act 1968 provides sufficient sanctions to deal with the problem.”
He said, however, that the government would make the effort to “marshal accurate data” regarding the number of pet thefts reported to police forces.
Eustice said: “It is important to remember that in 2016, the independent Sentencing Council updated its sentencing guidelines for theft offences. The new guidelines acknowledge that theft that causes emotional distress to the victim or where the item stolen is of a substantial value, regardless of the monetary worth, will indicate a higher level of seriousness and the offender should be sentenced accordingly.”
Becky Thwaites, head of public affairs at Blue Cross pet charity, said: “Yesterday’s Westminster’s Hall debate on pet theft showed the strength of feeling in the House of Commons on the devastating impact the theft of a pet can have on an owner. Blue Cross knows just how much pets mean in our lives and they are much more than just property – which is how they are currently recognised. It was refreshing to see wide cross party support for calls to change legislation to ensure pet theft is recognised as a specific crime and those criminals who snatch beloved family members away are rightly punished.
“Blue Cross is pleased that the minister has promised to ensure the government collects accurate data on the number of reported pet thefts across all police forces but this is an empty victory if the government refuses to change legislation to make pet theft a specific crime and protect the animals in our lives.”