Pet theft has been a real worry for pet owners in our area recently. As the demand for pets has risen during lockdown, so has the price of pets – up around 400% on last year. That has given criminals the motive the need to steal dogs and other pets whenever they get the chance.
BBC Leicestershire has reported that our area is one of the worst affected in the country. Pet thefts have doubled in the last year. It is important to keep this issue in perspective, however, as 2020 saw only 41 confirmed pet thefts in the Leicestershire Police area.
I know how much my family love our dog Mr Fluffles (pictured above) and would be devastated if he was stolen. Many cat and dog owners feel the same.
Nevertheless, it is undoubtedly true that pet theft is not treated with the seriousness it deserves and reform is urgently needed. Tragically, only 1 in 5 pets that are stolen are ever returned to their owner. Only about 1% of pet thefts lead to charges. That is not good enough.
Punishments are often related to the monetary value of a pet, which means that they do not reflect the distress and heartache that these crimes cause. When a conviction does occur, it usually results in trivial fines rather than imprisonment – no matter how many pets have been stolen.
Although the Theft Act of 1968 allows a maximum penalty of up to 7 years, this never seems to happen. The majority of prison sentences awarded are less than six months. This Act is over 50 years old and may need amendment. Pet theft is Low Risk and High Reward, attracting organised crime.
A Dog Trust survey found that 99% of respondents considered their pets to be a family member. Any dog owner knows the real and intense pain felt when their pet is injured, dies or is stolen.
We need to get some action taken urgently to help tackle this problem. Some are already doing so. Our local MPs Dr Luke Evans and Alberto Costa are taking an interest. The government has set up a “petfishing” scheme to give helpful advice to would-be pet purchasers on how to avoid buying a stolen pet and find a respectable breeder and dealer. Find details here: https://getyourpetsafely.campaign.gov.uk/
Now I am calling on the government to take some more determined action to help our animal friends. For a start I am backing the Dogs Trust call for the government to:
- Raise the minimum age for puppies to be imported into the UK to six months to help make them less desirable.
- Bring in tougher penalties for smuggling pups to deter deceitful sellers. Only a handful of cases have ever been prosecuted and you can get a longer sentence for smuggling cigarettes than you can for smuggling puppies.
But I want to go further. If we are serious about tackling pet theft:
- We need better data from police forces that specifically records pet theft, rather than just ‘property’ theft, so that we can establish the true scale of the problem.
- Adequate police resources should be deployed to catch the organised gangs targeting our pets. Some of the 20,000 national uplift in police officers are going to the Regional Organised Crime Units so there should be some resources available.
- This crime should be considered as a priority within our Regional Organised Crime Units.
- We need to improve public awareness of how to reduce their pet’s vulnerability to criminals. I am already campaigning for better communication between public and police, of which this would be a part.
- I will work with our local MPs, we will seek a change in sentencing guidelines to ensure our judicial system recognises the emotional and social value of our pets, so that tougher sentences can be applied in our courts. If that approach does not produce tougher sentences for pet theft, it may then be necessary to change the law.