Sunday 8 August 2021

Theft of companion animals is more than simple theft. UK government introduces new offence.

The UK government is going to recognise in a new law that the theft of a companion animal is not simple theft. You cannot apply the law of theft to the crime of stealing companion animals. Because the existing law does not reflect the fact that for most people pets are not just property like a television or computer. The theft of a companion animal is traumatic both for the owner and the companion animal. This added element to the theft of a pet must be taken into account when punishing criminals. The sentencing guidelines should be extended under this new legislation to allow lengthier terms of imprisonment.

Rushi Sunak, Chancellor, and his Labrador, Nova.
Rushi Sunak, Chancellor, and his Labrador, Nova. Photo in public domain.

It will be an offence of "pet abduction". It is a response to the surge in dog and cat thefts (mainly dogs) which have occurred during the coronavirus pandemic. Dog thefts increased by a fifth during lockdown. The thefts were driven by market forces. People wanted to adopt a dog or cat during the extensive Covid pandemic lockdown periods. That pushed up the price of companion animals tremendously. Prices doubled or even trebled for the most popular breeds.

Criminals wanted to get in on the act. And to achieve that they had to obtain the assets for sale. So, they stole them. And it should be said that in the UK the police have a dismal record in either recovering stolen dogs to reunite them with their owners or catching the thieves. In London, for example, a hotspot for dognapping, charges against criminals were brought in less than 10% of cases. In about 50% of cases a suspect had never been identified according to The Sunday Times report of August 8, 2021.

Initially, government ministers had rejected the idea of introducing a pet theft offence because they thought it might interfere with the existing Theft Act and complicate the charging of offenders. They also believed that it might not lead to increased sentencing.

The government listened to charities, the police and breeders before deciding to go ahead with a pet abduction law. The Prime Minister of Great Britain, Boris Johnson, has said that dog theft can "cause huge pain and grief to the victims".

Boris and Carrie Johnson, his wife, live with a rescue dog called Dilyn. Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, bought a Labrador, Nova, this summer and Michael Gove also owns a dog called Snowy, a Bichon Frise.

A recent example of this crime is the theft of three pets, one a therapy dog, stolen from kennels at Brookfield Farm in Spondon, Derbyshire while the owners were on holiday. The therapy dog is a cockapoo called Elvis. He was the pet of a five-year-old boy with ADHD and autism. The dog was a big part of the mental health and well-being of this boy whose name, by the way, is Oscar.

The new offence will be added to the Police Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill which is currently going through Parliament. It is expected to become law in the early part of next year.

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