In the UK, pet theft is not a specific crime in and of itself - and campaigners are calling for the government to amend the Theft Act 1968 in order to make the practice an official offence.
This is how you can join the online campaign to make pet theft its own specific offence.
Campaigners are calling on the government to make pet theft a specific offence after reports “went through the roof” during lockdown.
Editor of Dogs Today magazine, Beverley Cuddy, told MPs that, during lockdown, dog prices “went up and up” and that cases of theft also increased.
“We had some enormous, horrific organised crime. 22 dogs were stolen in a heist like you get in a jewellers,” she said.
“Each one of those puppies was going to be someone’s lockdown puppy because unfortunately in lockdown, everyone wanted a dog.
“And the prices went up and up and the criminal looked at those figures and looked at all those people who wanted dogs and put two and two together.”
Dr Daniel Allen, an animal geographer at Keele University, who has created petitions calling for pet theft reform, said that thieves steal pets with the intention of selling them on, or breeding them.
What’s the petition?
The online petition is calling for the government to make pet theft a “specific offence with custodial sentences.”
Pet Theft Reform 2020 asks that the sentencing guidelines in the Theft Act 1968 be revised in order to classify pet theft as its own specific crime, and that it is recognised as a category two offence or above.
The government has stated that the crime is already considered an offence under the Theft Act 1968, with a maximum penalty of seven years in prison. However, campaigners say that those who steal animals can currently be punished in the same fashion as someone who steals an inanimate object, like a phone. This is because pets are classed as “property” under the act.
At the time of writing, the petition had more than 89,000 signatures. It needs 100,000 to be considered for debate in Parliament.
Has the government replied to the petition?
The UK government issued a response to the petition on 31 March this year.
The statement said, “The sentencing guidelines now take account of the emotional distress and harm that theft of personal items such as a pet can have on the victim and recommends higher penalties for such offences.”
It explains that the theft of a pet is already a criminal offence under the Theft Act 1968, and the maximum penalty is seven years’ imprisonment, so there is “no need to introduce a separate offence.”
Catherine McKinnell MP and Tom Hunt MP wrote a letter to Robert Buckland QC MP, the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice on 17 June 2020, stating that “by creating a separate offence of pet theft, these cases could be both punished and deterred more effectively.”
The letter said, “At the very least, the government should require the police and courts to specifically record the number of reported crimes, arrests and convictions for the theft of pets so the true scale of this problem is made clear.”