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If a pet is stolen it is currently treated as loss of the owner’s property under the Theft Act 1968. Offences under this act carry a maximum term of seven years however ministers have said there is little evidence of the maximum sentence being used because the sentence is decided based on the monetary value of the stolen item.
The change in law was proposed after a report was submitted by the pet theft task force which was set up to find ways to tackle an increase in pet theft incidents during the three coronavirus lockdowns.
Government officials, police officers, prosecutors and local authorities are part of the pet theft task force. They received evidence from animal welfare groups, academics and campaigners to make recommendations to stop further thefts.
It is not currently known what the maximum sentence will be for the new pet abduction law.
The report from the pet taskforce found seven in 10 of the animal thefts recorded by the police involve dogs. Evidence suggests around 2,000 dog theft crimes were reported in 2020.
The price of some breeds increased by as much as 89 per cent over lockdown, as people were confined to their homes, potentially making dog theft a more appealing prospect to criminals looking to profit from the spike in the desire to own a pooch.
According to the charity Dog Lost, the top five most commonly stolen dog breeds are Cocker Spaniels, English Springer Spaniels, Jack Russell Terriers, French Bulldogs and Staffordshire Bull Terriers.
In January, a petition calling for the government to make dog theft a specific law was signed by more than 316,000 people. Parliament considers all petitions that get more than 100,000 signatures for debates.
Dog owner Hannah explained to Tyla at the time why she decided to start the petition: "During lockdown it seems dog theft has gone up and up and you never hear the criminal has been caught and sentenced. It's seen to be like stealing sweets from a shop and it's so much more than that.”
Wayne May, senior police liaison officer at Dog Lost told explained to Tyla why dognapping has become such a huge problem in the last year. "People were looking for companion animals at home during lockdown, which inadvertently sparked a rise in the value of dogs in general which obviously has been capitalised on.
"We were running out of dogs in the UK. We also have a big problem of dogs being illegally imported into the UK without paperwork at the moment and obviously people are having their dogs stolen specifically to be bred from."
The government is also considering making improvements to dog ownership data by allowing owners to register their dogs with police, including photos and DNA as well as microchip information.
Home Secretary Priti Patel said: "Stealing a pet is an awful crime which can cause families great emotional distress whilst callous criminals line their pockets.
"The new offence of pet abduction acknowledges that animals are far more than just property and will give police an additional tool to bring these sickening individuals to justice."
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