Dognappers face seven years in prison in a major crackdown on the ‘heartless trade’ in stolen animals.
Thieves will be charged with a new “pet kidnapping” offense that will lead to longer prison terms.
The stricter law is being introduced to reflect that cherished pets mean more to their families than the laptops or phones they could lose in a break-in, and that the animals themselves suffer if they are snatched from their homes.
A government task force recommended the move after fears criminal gangs were targeting dogs after demand led to a surge in the price of puppies during the lockdown.
Dognappers could face seven years in prison in a major crackdown on the ‘heartless trade’ in stolen animals, it has been revealed. Pictured: The Robson family, from Nantwich in Cheshire, welcome the tough new law after their Labradors Denzel and Welly were stolen by doggy diapers
Victims welcome strict new law on dognapping
A family whose two Labradors were snatched from outside a Marks & Spencer’s welcomed the new offense.
Charlotte and Dale Robson and their daughters were distraught when Denzel and Welly were stolen in March. Autumn, four and three year old April feared they would never see their pets again.
To the family’s relief, the dogs were found unharmed three days later after police received a tip. The dognapper was sentenced to six months in prison.
Ms Robson, 32, from Nantwich, Cheshire, said the sentence was not long enough and she welcomed the crackdown.
She said, ‘It means everything to us. The fact that they also think about the welfare of dogs. Welly has had a really rough ride since everything happened. They feel – Welly is proof of that.
“I’d like the man who stole our dogs to understand what he’s done. It’s not like stealing a laptop or anything.’
Home Secretary Priti Patel said last night: “Stealing a pet is a terrible crime that can cause families major emotional distress while insensitive criminals line their pockets.
“The new pet abduction offense recognizes that animals are much more than property and will give police an additional tool to bring these sickening individuals to justice.”
Other steps in the crackdown include making it easier for police and vets to find details of stolen animals in microchip databases, tracking unscrupulous sellers by forcing them to show ID when they place ads, and banning cash sales. .
Owners can even register their dogs with the police and store their DNA in a database in projects being considered by some police forces.
Until now, pets have been treated like any other personal property stolen by thieves, with few dognappers being prosecuted and most avoiding jail.
But a tougher stance was demanded after the initial Covid-19 lockdown led to unprecedented numbers of families looking to buy pets.
This forced prices up and led to organized gangs to steal dogs.
According to a report by the Animal Theft Task Force published today, 1,504 dog theft offenses were reported to police forces in England and Wales in 2020 – at a time when the lockdown led to a sharp drop in burglaries and street robberies.
In March, DogLost, a charity that helps pet owners, said the crime rate has increased 170 percent, from 172 pets reported stolen in 2019 to 465 in 2020.
The task force report also cites evidence from Pets4Home that the average price paid for a puppy rose from £810 in 2019 to £1,875 last year.
Pictured: Charlotte and Dale Robson reunited with their Labradors, Denzel and Welly
Only one in five stolen dogs are reunited with their owners, police figures suggest, with less than 1 percent of cases leading to prosecution.
The task force considered ways to “better reflect the view that stolen pets are not mere property, but sentient beings,” but decided not to make pet theft an aggravating factor.
Instead, a new “pet abduction” offense “could shift the focus from the loss to the owner to the welfare of the animal,” the report said.
This would align with another planned law – being implemented by a friend of the Prime Minister’s wife, Carrie – that recognizes that animals have feelings and could lead to a ban on cooking lobsters alive.
Today’s report does not recommend a maximum penalty for pet kidnapping, but sources say a seven-year prison sentence could be introduced.
Ministers today also commit to making it easier to track down lost or stolen dogs.
Pictured: Malachy Doherty, of Tunstall, Stoke-on-Trent, sentenced to 27 weeks in prison for theft of the Robson’s Labradors
While all dogs must be microchipped, there are 16 different databases and the task force said it was “extremely difficult for owners and law enforcement” to navigate between them.
It recommends a “single point of entry” to all information stores “accessible to veterinarians, police and local authorities.”
Owners and breeders may also be forced to provide more details about microchips when dogs are sold.
And pet sales websites will be encouraged to require ID when sellers post ads, and to encourage cashless sales to track down those dealing in stolen pets.
Attorney General Robert Buckland said: “These proposals will help police better identify and track down criminals who are plunging into this heartless trade, while ensuring they are appropriately punished for their actions.”
RSPCA chief executive Chris Sherwood said: “Pet theft can shake families and seriously affect the welfare of animals snatched from everything they know.
“The new pet kidnapping offense will recognize the gravity of this crime.”
Kennel Club chief executive Mark Beazley added: “For far too long pet theft convictions have not reflected the devastating emotional impact the loss of a beloved pet can have.”
The Dogs Trust said: “The current sentencing does little to deter thieves and is determined by the monetary value of the dog, meaning offenders are often fined that do not match the emotional impact and trauma that dog theft has on families.”