Knight’s Days: Reporting back from Westminster with Sir Greg Knight: Law on pet theft no longer a deterrent

Some people assume that once a law is in place no further action is necessary and it is simply a case of ‘job done’.

Monday, 29th March 2021, 9:20 am
2020 was the worst year for the theft of dogs.

Some people assume that once a law is in place no further action is necessary and it is simply a case of ‘job done’.

Whilst this may occasionally be so, across a whole range of issues, Parliament needs to keep our existing regulations under review.

Some law changes that become necessary over time are obvious.

Before the motorcar was invented there was no need for a speed limit.

Before the internet was established clearly no rules existed governing its use, and so on.

Even some issues which have been with us a very long time require legislative re-examination in view of changing patterns of human behaviour.

One issue which has moved up the political agenda recently and is giving cause for concern to MPs is the explosion in pet theft, which has spectacularly rocketed since the pandemic put us into lockdown.

2020 was the worst year for the theft of dogs, with a whopping 250 per cent increase in canine theft occurring across the country.

With this has come a worrying increase in violence against the pet owners too.

This current trend in criminal behaviour has made it clear that our present law is inadequate to deter it.

The theft of pets, which causes immeasurable grief and anxiety to loving owners, is often treated by the courts the same as if the animal was an inexpensive inanimate possession, such as an old mobile phone or watch.

Where a stolen pet is assessed to be worth less than £500, the crime is treated as a lower category offence, with pitifully small fines being imposed.

Often these are less than £250 – a sum which does not act as a deterrent to profiteering dog thieves and which certainly in no way matches the grief, anxiety and emotional upset caused to countless pet owners.  

Shockingly, only about one per cent of pet theft criminals are charged and the maximum penalty of a custodial sentence is rarely, if ever, used.

This has to change. We are now seeing the involvement of violent gangs with far too many instances of pet owners being assaulted.

Particularly distressing is the preying on old and vulnerable people where the pet, which is priceless to them, is their only companion.

In my view, this is an issue where Parliament needs to consider what more should now be done.

The first thing we should contemplate is increasing the punishment given to the yobs guilty of pet theft.

Perhaps we even need to consider creating a specific ‘pet theft’ offence, which carries harsher punishment.  

There is also an argument for banning the cash sale of pets.

This happened with the sale of scrap metal to great effect and will cut off a source of income to crooks which makes stealing pets currently so attractive.

Someone once said, ‘You never really understand the emotional bond between an animal and a human until you have a pet.’

Pets aren’t just animals; they’re family companions and, as with any loved family member, there is an emotional scarring when you lose one.

Our laws should better reflect this.