Monday 3 May 2021

Is pet theft a crime in the UK?

Yes, pet theft is certainly a crime in the UK but sadly many people regard it as a minor, trivial crime. It is a crime which falls under the Theft Act 1968 and the maximum penalty is seven years imprisonment. But that maximum is misleading because almost always the punishment is much less. There is, however, a gradual awakening to the fact that pet theft is more than stealing an object. It is the breaking of a close bond between a person and their beloved companion animal who they regard as a member of the family. That aspect of the theft is factored in or should be nowadays.

Is pet theft a crime in the UK? YES
There needs to be a unique crime of pet theft in the UK. Image: Pixabay.

However, there needs to be a specific crime of Pet Theft – rather than it falling under the Theft Act. It is, arguably, insulting to the relationship between pets and their owners to place this crime under the Theft Act because it equates a companion animal with an inanimate object. Times have moved on. That concept is out of date. A lot of emotional harm is caused by the callous criminals who ruthlessly and sometimes violently steal companion animals on the streets. There are many distressed people in the UK who have lost their companion animals this way.

Thankfully, Boris Johnson, the UK Prime Minister, has written about this on the Mail on Sunday newspaper which is published online on Mail Online. He does not regard the theft of companion animals as a trivial matter for two reasons. Firstly, this kind of crime which is still regarded as very minor can lead to more serious crime. This is the "broken window theory". It's a theory which states that if there are broken windows in buildings it encourages crime.

"At present this crime is far too often dismissed as relatively trivial – on a par, say, with shoplifting....I don’t agree." - Boris Johson.

The police need to stamp on relatively minor crime in order to make an impact in reducing more serious crime. Secondly, there is, as mentioned, the emotional connection in pet thefts. It is a unique kind of crime in that regard. It is not simply the theft of an animal. The thieves are stealing the bond between person and animal. This is a loving, supportive bond upon which many people depend on for their contentment. The theft of companion animal can break people. I'm not sure that everyone realises how emotionally distressing it can be.

In this vein, Boris Johnson's government has set up the Pet Theft Task Force to try and make sure that the criminal justice system is dealing properly with pet theft. I believe that it is an attempt to focus more intently on this aspect of criminality. This is particularly important at this time because of the surge in pet thefts due to the coronavirus pandemic. I'm sure that pretty well everyone has read about the surge in mainly dog thefts because of their increased value as a consequence of many more people adopting dogs at this time for company during these long lockdowns.

So the coronavirus pandemic has brought into focus pet theft in the UK and the need to do something concrete about it rather than letting this aspect of criminality languish within the umbrella of the Theft Act which is highly unsuitable.

Yes, pet theft is a crime in the UK but it is not being dealt with properly and the callous criminals who participate in this activity are rarely caught and I suspect that the animals are also rarely reunited with their owners. Sometimes the stolen animals are used to breed more animals for sale, if they are not sterilised. So a charming female dog might end up in some grubby property constantly breeding puppies for the remainder of her life. The thought of that in the mind of her owner is highly distressing.

On other occasions the animal is sold on at an inflated price or they hold the animal as ransom for a large sum of money. In all cases these are callous acts of casual criminality. I am pleased that Boris Johnson has written about it. I suspect that he was encouraged to do so by his fiancée, Carrie Symonds, who we know is an animal advocate. I for one am pleased that she is and that she is his fiancée except for the cash for curtains fiasco which appears to be her doing as well.

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