Pet Abduction To Be Made A Criminal Offence In England
The UK government is to impose harsher penalties for pet theft, as plans are introduced to make pet abduction a criminal offence.
Under current laws, pet theft is prosecuted under the Theft Act and is seen as loss of property to the owner of the pet. However, campaigners have long said this does not address the emotional impact the crime can have to an owner.
The coronavirus pandemic saw a huge increase in pet abductions, with 70% of reported thefts involving dogs, and roughly 2,000 dogs stolen last year. Now, new legislation is set to increase the punishment for the crime.
A government taskforce, set up last year to address the rise of pet theft, found the price of certain breeds of dog had increased by up to 89% during the UK’s lockdowns, The Guardian reports.
As well as tougher penalties, the taskforce also recommends improving records and data collection regarding pet theft, additional ownership details, and further access to microchipping databases.
Offences under the Theft Act 1968 have a maximum sentence of seven years, with sentences often determined by the value of the item stolen. So far, it’s not clear what the maximum sentence for pet theft will be.
Home Secretary Priti Patel said, per BBC News:
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.
Chris Sherwood, chief executive for the RSPCA, added, ‘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. We’re also thrilled that the government wants to simplify the microchipping database system and we believe this will help to tackle pet theft as well as other animal welfare issues and irresponsible pet ownership generally.’
Pet thefts reportedly rose by 170% from 2019 to 2020, but research also revealed only 1% of such crimes led to prosecution.
The government is yet to set out the exact penalty for pet theft, but said the offence would prioritise the welfare of the animals and the distress caused to the pet and its owner.
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