Dog theft should be made a specific criminal offence
There is no real deterrent to stop these criminals and no evidence that these crimes are taken seriously.
Could you imagine what it’s like to have a family member stolen from you? To wake up to find that a loved one is no longer there, with no possible idea of what could have happened to them. To endure sleepless nights, anxiously worrying about where they are or if you’ll ever see them again.
Well that’s tragically been the experience for the estimated 1,699 families who had their dog stolen last year, according to TeamDogs. Reports of dog thefts have soared during the coronavirus pandemic, with the charity DogsLost seeing a 250 per cent rise in the number of dogs stolen nationwide over the past 12 months.
Currently the theft of a much-loved pet is treated by the law in the same way as having your garden gnome nicked
The number of victims could be as high 2,438 say Direct Line but sadly we’ll never know what the true figure is because police do not list dog theft as a specific crime.
And that is what is at the heart of this issue. Dogs are very much a huge part of many families, including my own - we have a nine-year-old springer spaniel named Jasper and a 9-month-old chocolate named Ted who we love very much.
Over recent weeks we’ve seen dog owners all over the media speaking of the “emotional torture” they’ve experienced having their dog stolen. But currently the theft of a much-loved pet is treated by the law in the same way as having your garden gnome nicked – with a small fine or even just a slap on the wrist. There is no real deterrent to stop these criminals and no evidence that these crimes are taken seriously.
Shocking new research seen by the Daily Mirror showed that just one in four of dogs stolen in 2020 were reunited with their owner, with a pathetic three per cent of cases leading to the thief facing justice.
I want to make sure that those people who commit appalling crimes like this end up getting punished as they should be and deterred from doing it in the first place. That’s why I’ve been calling on the government to make dog theft a specific criminal offence.
The Home Secretary has talked a good game on this, telling LBC Radio in February that she is looking at tackling this “absolutely shocking” crime. Sadly, however the government’s bark is much stronger than their bite, with an Freedom of Information request I sent finding that the Home Office has no information of any meeting involving Priti Patel on this issue since October last year.
I’m hugely concerned that the Home Secretary might not be treating this growing problem with the seriousness that it deserves.
I want Priti Patel to show that she understands the heartbreak and pain that so many families have endured, and to give us some hope that she will take the action that dog owners are demanding to make dog theft a specific criminal offence.
Tim Farron is the Liberal Democrat MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale and former leader of the Liberal Democrat Party.