Home Secretary Priti Patel has announced a new taskforce will be established to help tackle the rapid increase in pet theft.
Work has also been carried out by officials and junior ministers with further steps to be announced “in due course.”
Currently, stealing a pet is classed as an offence under the Theft Act and can result in a maximum jail sentence of seven years. Sentencing Council guidelines mean emotional distress is also considered when deciding punishments.
However, ministers remain under pressure to introduce a new and more specific offence of stealing pet dogs.
A spokesman for the government explained: “Last month, the Home Secretary, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs met to discuss a cross-government approach to combating this issue and we will announce next steps in due course.
They added that “this builds upon the huge amounts of work already undertaken by junior ministers and officials,” and went on to underline the “great distress” caused by “losing a much-loved family pet.”
This news comes as Ms Patel faces criticism for not taking the problem seriously. A Freedom of Information (FOI) Act request revealed that the Home Office had no information on meetings regarding the issue and involving the Home Secretary from October 2020 to mid-March.
Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat environment spokesman reacted to news of the FOI, calling it “very concerning” and accusing the Home Secretary of not “treating this growing problem with the seriousness that it deserves.”
He said: “Dog theft should be a specific crime, and treated with much more gravity, given that our pets are part of our families.”
In February, Ms Patel confirmed that the Home Office is “definitely looking into what kind of measures can be put in place in terms of the criminality” and “what we might be able to do in laws to absolutely go after these individuals that are stealing pets and making money out of this”.
She added: “This is absolutely shocking, it’s a shocking crime that is taking place”, adding that she understands that in London “it’s very prevalent right now”.
Indeed, the “shocking” rise in pet thefts has come hand in hand with a surge in pandemic pet purchasing. In 2020 charity Doglost reported that 465 dogs were stolen. This is a much higher figure than the 172 dog thefts recorded in 2019.