The UK is experiencing a rise in pet theft, with over 60 dogs being stolen every week

Nearly half of UK homes include a pet in their family. Pet theft is a serious problem for every household. Freedom-of-information requests made to the UK police force prove that dog thefts are increasing. In 2013, 1,491 dog thefts were reported, followed by 1,599 in 2014 and 1,776 in 2015. In 2016, 1,774 dogs were reported as stolen.

These figures are only a small part of the story, as police forces across the country record crimes differently. The true extent of pet thefts is often hidden by reclassifying it as burglary or robbery.

In fact, over 60 dogs are taken in England and Wales each week, and the number has increased by almost 24% within the last three years. The national media is increasingly reporting on dog thefts, with a focus on social media campaigns that aim to reunite owners with their pets.

Morse, the border terrierOlive, the cavapoo; and Douglas, the cocker spaniel, have all enjoyed happy reunions in recent weeks. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Last year, reports revealed that five dogs were stolen in the UK every day, but only one was recovered.

Why is dog theft on the rise?

Theft of a dog can be punished by up to seven years in prison. These penalties are seldom enforced. Instead, the most likely punishments are community service or a warning.

Pet theft is treated the same as theft of inanimate objects under UK law – even though pets are sentient. If someone steals a labrador, they will likely get the same punishment as if they stole a laptop.

Arnot Wilson, the co-founder of Stolen & Missing Pets Alliance and founder of Dog Union, states that “this is outdated and does not reflect today’s needs.”

The number of stolen dogs is on the rise despite mandatory microchipping. PexelsCC BY

The Animal Welfare Act can also be violated by anyone who steals or mistreats an animal. The maximum penalty for this is a fine of up to PS20,000 and six months in prison. Currently, it does not consider the emotional distress caused by stolen pets.

There are a number of dog theft networks operating at the local and national level, stealing dogs for profit. Dogs can be stolen for a variety of reasons, including breeding, selling, or using as bait for illegal dogfighting.

Reduce dog theft

Dog owners should be aware that all dogs can become victims. The Pet Theft Census showed that 52% are stolen while on walks, 19% by burglars, 16% when out walking, 7% tied outside shops, and 5% are left in unattended vehicles.

It is important always to monitor your dog, secure garden boundaries, lock gates, install visible alarms on properties, and install CCTV cameras. As well as varying your walking time and route, keeping your pet on a leash, and never leaving them alone in vehicles or outside shops.

Over 80% of stolen animals are never returned to the owner. Shutterstock

In April 2016, microchipping became mandatory in the UK. This would allow lost or stolen pets to be easily scanned and returned to their owners. In reality, veterinary practices and animal protection authorities are not required to watch dogs or check microchips.

Ten approved microchip databases exist, the largest of which is PetLog. These databases are not interested in creating a single national database. Debbie Matthews, the founder of Veterans Get Scanning, explains:

We must put in place stronger deterrents to stop these thieves, and we must scan and check microchips for all pets to help reunite them with their owners.

There is still hope for the future if records are up-to-date and scanning is mandatory. In 2013, the Halo Microchip Scanner was released. It is unique in that it can send an alert immediately if a missing pet on the PetLog or DogLost registers is scanned.

The law has been amended.

Since its founding in 2015, the Stolen & Missing Pets Alliance, which consists of DogLost, Vets Get Scanning, Pet Theft Awareness, and The Dog Union, has lobbied for changes to legislation. Gareth Johnson, an MP, hosted Dog Theft Awareness Day in Westminster last year. 48 MPs supported this event.

In 2018, the Chinese Year of the Dog, the momentum continued. After feeling completely helpless and becoming increasingly concerned for the families affected, I offered my support to the campaign against pet theft.

Our new petition asks that the theft of pets be reclassified as a specific offense, the sentencing guidelines reviewed, and the police given the appropriate training and guidance to record and investigate crimes. The petition received 10,000 signatures within the first 36-hour period, and the support continues to grow. Now, the goal is to collect 100,000 signatures to start a debate within Parliament.

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