During the pandemic many pet owners are having to deal with the fear that their beloved pet could be stolen.
Thefts are mainly dog orientated but there has been an increase in other animals such as cats and equines. There are some reports that pet theft is up 250%, as the demand for puppies has increased purchase prices up from £500 to £2,000 (BBC 12/2/2021). This barbaric practice often sees pets kept in large neglected and filthy conditions, as seen in a recent case in Gloucestershire and cases in Wales, where large caches of pets were discovered by the police.
A recent high-profile case reports Lady Gaga’s dog walker was shot whilst walking her dogs, with a large reward offered for their return. Many see this approach as problematic as it may actually encourage “dog napping”. Offering a reward with no questions asked is not unknown in the UK especially on social media sites with owners desperate to be reunited with their beloved pets. Sadly, less than 5% of cases end in a criminal conviction. The shocking fact is that 52% of stolen pets are stolen from gardens, as reported by the Kennel Club (BBC 2/2/2021). Luckily, Lady Gaga’s dogs have now been located, well and safe.
This criminality is not confined to younger dogs, anything with four legs is fair game. Thieves don’t realise the age or value of the pet until closer inspection. This leads to animals being abandoned often miles from home, or a worse fate. New buyers don’t always realize that the animal is stolen and, appallingly, there have been cases where pets have been mutilated in order to remove their identification chip.
In some communities gangs are out and about searching for dogs making people fearful, harassed and concerned about exercising their dogs. Criminals break into houses, cars and outhouses where the pet is not always stolen for a “sell on,” but also stolen for bait in dog and badger baiting fights.
So, what can done? Changes to the law are required. Home Secretary Priti Patel, has promised to look at tougher measures and Sir Ian Duncan- Smith is calling for stricter penalties to deal with “dog napping“ (BBC 12/2/2021). Chris Loader MP (West Dorset) has introduced the Animal Welfare (Sentencing Bill) to Parliament on the 23/10/2021. This is all great encouraging stuff but the thieves and criminal gangs have to be caught in order to feel the strong arm of the law.
A multifaceted approach is required with the law as a deterrent, community involvement, and extra resources for the Police, to allow thorough investigation of pet theft. Public campaigns informing people of the dangers, plus working with charities such as the RSPCA to educate communities on how to keep their pet safe. In my opinion there is a role to be developed not dissimilar to the “Neighbourhood Watch” called “Community Pet Watch” with communities working together with statutory authorities to help prevent pet theft.
So many heart-breaking stories involve owners unsuccessfully searching for many years to recover stolen pets, and the horrific animal cruelty issues surrounding ‘pet napping’. Surely, now is the time to look at practical solutions UK wide in order to protect our pets.
Our police and crime commissioner in Devon and Cornwall, Alison Hernandez, is very concerned about this criminal trend. Alison, is currently researching the extent of the crime, and asks for people to report their concerns. Alison is working on an initiative in response to pet napping which will be published soon.
Any crime can be reported at 101@DC.police.uk
Dr Danielle Wootton