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Pet thieves will face up to five years in prison as dog abduction is made a criminal offence in new Kept Animals Bill



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PEOPLE who steal dogs could face up to five years behind bars under proposals unveiled today (Thursday).

Moves to make pet abduction a criminal offence have moved a step closer with the government's decision to bring it forward in the Kept Animals Bill.

The dog abduction offence is to be added by ministers to the bill, bolstering the raft of measures it already includes to protect pets, livestock and kept wild animals.

Those found guilty of dog abduction could soon face up to five years in prison
Those found guilty of dog abduction could soon face up to five years in prison

Prior to this, pet theft was treated as a loss of property to the owner.

But the crime will now take into account the emotional distress caused to both the owner and the dog, and will help judges hand down more targeted penalties and sentences for pet thieves.

The opportunity to extend the offence in the future to include other pets will also be made in the bill, should evidence eventually support this.

In March police have moved to reassure dog owners over false alarms posted on social media about apparent dognapping incidents across Hampshire and Dorset.

One involved two men at Buckland Rings in Lymington who were said to be “trying to entice” a dog to them with treats, but it turned out to be a good Samaritan returning a runaway pet to its owner.

In Christchurch, there were further false claims of an official from the RSPCA warning dog walkers that her friend had to use pepper spray on two men trying to steal her dogs at Stanpit Marsh.

While related to dogs for now, provision could be extended to include other stolen animals too. Picture: iStock.
While related to dogs for now, provision could be extended to include other stolen animals too. Picture: iStock.

Paula Boyden, veterinary director at Dogs Trust, says the charity welcomes the move.

She explained: “Having your beloved pet stolen is an extremely stressful, often heart-breaking experience. For years, Dogs Trust has called for harsher penalties to deter those who profit from this despicable crime. We wholeheartedly welcome the measures the government has taken today to tackle pet theft and prioritise the welfare of our pets as sentient beings, and very much hope that the increased sentencing will make pet thieves think twice.”

The creation of this new criminal offence follows recommendations by the Pet Theft Taskforce, launched in May, which was put together to tackle the reported rises in pet thefts during the pandemic. Bringing together animal experts, government officials and police, the taskforce was charged with looking at how fresh tactics might tackle the problem.

A government taskforce was set up in May to specifically look at rising pet thefts. Picture: iStock.
A government taskforce was set up in May to specifically look at rising pet thefts. Picture: iStock.

Evidence shows that more than 2,000 incidents of pet theft were reported to the police last year, causing considerable distress for owners and pets alike and for crimes recorded by police in which animals are stolen, around seven in 10 involve dogs.

Welcoming the creation of the new offence, chief veterinary officer, Dr Christine Middlemiss said it was time dogs were treated as more than just property.

She said: “The recognition of the distress caused to animals by pet theft is an important step forward, treating them as sentient beings rather than merely property. The new offence should build greater awareness of the significant impacts of dog theft on people and animals, and reassure pet owners that these crimes are being taken seriously.”

Dog walkers are advised to regularly change their walking routes
Dog walkers are advised to regularly change their walking routes

The RSPCA is among the organisations which continually warns the public about the risk of thieves stealing their beloved pets. While police advice is that no pet is ever left unattended while out in public and owners vary their walking routines with dogs alongside taking basic security steps at home such as checking and improving locks on doors and garden gates.

David Bowles, head of public affairs at the RSPCA, added: “The theft of a pet is devastating and we’re pleased the government has announced these amendments which we hope will act as a real deterrent to those who carry out this crime. While the current proposed law applies to dogs, we are really pleased to see the government has also recognised how much other animals mean to people as well, and put in provision to extend it to other pets.

"We hope this new law, which will see sentences up to five years, will help crackdown on the heart-breaking issue of pet theft.”



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