Dognapping offence aims to crack down on ‘heart-breaking issue’

A new criminal offense to combat dognapping and “justice for victims” has come a step closer.

People who steal a canine companion face up to five years in prison, according to government plans, if convicted of dog abduction.

The offense will be incorporated into the Animal Husbandry Act in September following a recommendation by the government’s Animal Theft Task Force.

Animal organization leaders have welcomed the move that they hope will “tackle the heartbreaking issue of pet theft.”

The task force was launched in May to tackle a reported increase in pet thefts during the pandemic.

When it comes to police-recorded animal theft crimes, around seven in ten dogs are affected, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said.

Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “The loss of a beloved pet causes unique hardship. I am pleased that we are legislating to recognize this particular crime.

“The new dog abduction offense will reflect the impact on animals in punishment for criminals and bring justice to victims.”

The new offense will take into account the emotional distress of both the owner and the dog and allow judges to impose more targeted penalties and penalties for animal thieves, Defra said.

It added that the bill would also include a provision to extend the offense to other pets in the future if evidence shows it.

The senior veterinarian Dr. Christine Middlemiss said the latest step is “an important step forward” as dogs are treated “as sentient beings, not just property”.

She added, “The new offense should create greater awareness of the significant effects dog theft has on people and animals, and reassure pet owners that these crimes are taken seriously.”

David Bowles, director of public affairs for the RSPCA, said pet theft was “devastating” to owners, adding that he hoped the crime would be “a real deterrent for those who commit the crime”.

He added, “While the currently proposed law applies to dogs, we are delighted that the government has also recognized how much other animals mean to humans and has made arrangements to extend it to other pets.

“We hope that this new law, which allows for sentences of up to five years in prison, will help tackle the heartbreaking problem of pet theft.”

Paula Boyden, Veterinary Director at Dogs Trust said, “Stealing your beloved pet is an extremely stressful and often heartbreaking experience.

“For years, Dogs Trust has called for tougher penalties to deter those who profit from this heinous crime.

“We wholeheartedly applaud the actions the government has taken today to combat animal theft and prioritize the welfare of our pets as sentient beings, and we sincerely hope that increasing condemnation will make animal thieves pause for thought.”

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