Pet Abduction to Be Made Criminal Offence in England

Pet abduction will be made a separate criminal offence in the United Kingdom after a rise in thieves targeting dog owners during the lockdown.

The coronavirus pandemic saw much of Britain’s workforce either furloughed or working at home, resulting in a lockdown boom of pet ownership that resulted in a shortage of dogs — which fed the heartless criminal enterprise of dog thefts, such as the recent story of a young mother who fought off a woman trying to steal her 12-week-old Irish bull terrier puppy in Yorkshire while she walked through a park with her toddler.

Until now, the theft of a pet was treated as a simple loss of property. While the 1968 Theft Act does carry a maximum sentence of seven years, ministers believed, according to the BBC, that it was not being used to its fullest extent with dog thefts, as the sentence was variable largely on the value of the piece of “property”.

In a press release from the Ministery of Justice, the Home Office (which oversees crime and policing), and the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) published on Friday, the government said that “the new law will recognise the welfare of animals and that pets are valued as more than property.”

A report by the Pet Theft Taskforce recommended the creation of the new pet abduction offence, which it said should “prioritise the welfare of our pets as sentient beings and recognise the emotional distress to the animal in addition to its owner”, improve recording data on pet thefts, and bring in new requirements related to pet microchipping databases.

The move was welcomed by Britain’s premier animal charity, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), which said on Friday: “The new Pet Abduction Offence will acknowledge the seriousness of this crime and we hope this will encourage courts to hand out much tougher sentences to pet thieves.”

The BBC shared footage from one home’s CCTV of half a dozen hooded and masked men hurl a heavy object through a patio door before stealing puppies from inside.

Adult animals are also stolen for puppy-farm breeding, with the RSPCA saying it had “uncovered large criminal gangs making millions of pounds” off of the misery of owners and the dogs they steal.

One undercover intelligence officer told the BBC that he knows of two gangs that have given up drug dealing just to intensively farm dogs, because the trade had become so lucrative.

Police raids in recent months have recovered hundreds of stolen dogs, including from a Traveller’s site in Suffolk in March and an illegal kennel in Surrey in April. Some 2,000 dogs were reported stolen last year.

The thieves do not appear to be above violence, either, with one man from Wales telling the BBC earlier this year that dognappers had threatened to stab him unless he handed over his border collie puppy.

A female student was also left with several bruises on her face after being knocked to the ground and punched as two men tried to steal her pug.