Crackdown on “despicable” crime of dog theft
More dogs were reported stolen in South Yorkshire last year, figures reveal, amid an apparent rise in dognappings nationally.
Animal welfare charities have welcomed a move by the Government to crack down on the "despicable" crime, with a new pet theft taskforce set to investigate a rise in snatchings across the UK.
Figures obtained through a freedom of information request by RADAR reveal South Yorkshire Police recorded 80 dog thefts in the year ending March 31 – although the force only provided 11 months' worth of figures.
That was up from 55 the previous year, a 45 per cent increase, but below the level seen in 2017-18, when 94 thefts were reported to the force.
Of the thefts reported in the latest 12-month period, the largest number – 12 – happened in November 2020.
The figures cover the number of dog thefts reported to police, but not the number of animals stolen.
Nationally, at least 1,791 offences were recorded in 2020-21 by the 31 forces in England and Wales which provided comparable figures, an 11 per cent rise on 1,612 in 2019-20.
The national figure excludes data from South Yorkshire Police for March this year.
Sales platforms have seen a "considerable rise" in puppy and kitten prices over the last year as more people look to buy or adopt during the pandemic, the Government said – with reports suggesting the increase in demand may have fuelled a national rise in pet thefts.
Although many dog owners would consider their pet another member of the family, the animals are currently considered as property in law.
This means there is no standardised way for police forces to record or search for the number of dog thefts, leaving the true scale of the issue largely unknown.
But a petition calling on the Government to make dog theft a specific offence had garnered 316,500 signatures by its deadline on Thursday, May 20, meaning it is well over the threshold to be considered for debate in parliament.
Around 25,600 people across Yorkshire and The Humber have contributed their signature to the cause.
The petition is calling for dog theft to carry an eight-year minimum sentence and a fine of at least £5,000.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is considering tougher sentencing for the crime, which could see dog thieves prosecuted under animal welfare laws instead of the Theft Act 1968, The Times has reported.
Earlier this month, the Government launched a new pet theft taskforce to investigate the rise in thefts nationally since the start of lockdown restrictions.
It will also introduce a new law to recognise animals as sentient beings which can feel pleasure, pain and fear.
The Stolen and Missing Pets Alliance, which has long campaigned for reform of laws around pet theft, said it is pleased the issue "is being taken seriously".
CEO Debbie Matthews said: "Our pets are priceless, irreplaceable members of our families and the law should reflect this.
"Parliament must make the changes needed and make pet theft a specific offence in its own right, to give the courts access to appropriate custodial sentences to act as a deterrent, provide punishment and protect the public and their precious pets."