The Government’s pet theft taskforce was launched in May to tackle a rise in pet thefts during the pandemic. More than 2,000 incidents were reported to the police in 2020
A new criminal offence that will put people who steal beloved family pets behind bars has been published by the Government today.
The dog abduction offence, first announced in September, will be added to the Kept Animals Bill currently making its way through the Commons.
Boris Johnson, who owns a male Jack Russell cross called Dilyn with wife Carrie, promised a ruthless crackdown on dognapping earlier this year leading to the launch of a pet theft task force.
People who steal a canine companion could face up to five years in jail if convicted of dog abduction, under Government plans.
In an apparent crackdown on the crime, judges will be able to give more targeted penalties and sentences by taking into account the emotional distress caused to both the owner and the dog.
Previously, pet theft was treated as a loss of property to the owner, putting it on a par with shop-lifting.
It follows a reported rise in pet thefts during the pandemic, with more than 2,000 incidents reported to the police last year, causing considerable distress for owners and their pets alike.
And the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has said around seven in 10 crimes involving animals, refer to dogs.
Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “The loss of a much-loved pet causes unique distress. I am pleased that we are legislating to recognise this specific crime.
“The new dog abduction offence will reflect the impact on animals in penalties for criminals, and deliver justice for victims.”
Chief veterinary officer Dr Christine Middlemiss said the latest move is “an important step forward” with dogs being treated “as sentient beings rather than merely property”.
She added: “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.”
David Bowles, head of public affairs at the RSPCA, said pet theft is “devastating” for owners, adding that he hopes the offence will “act as a real deterrent to those who carry out this crime”.
Paula Boyden, veterinary director at the Dogs Trust, said: “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.”