Dog theft can be a devastating crime for families and causes considerable distress to owners. During the pandemic the demand for dogs has increased, the charity DogLost said it has seen reports of thefts rise by 170%, from 172 dogs in 2019 to 465 in 2020.
Dog theft is not a specific offence, under the Theft Act 1968, animal companions are legally regarded as inanimate objects when stolen, just like having your mobile phone taken.
This was addressed in 2018, but the government rejected calls to change the law, saying the Theft Act provided “sufficient sanctions“.
Following the increase in dog thefts, there are new calls for the government to look again at updating the law to recognise that dogs are members of the family to many people.
To help to tackle the crime, one police force, Nottinghamshire, has made the decision to appoint a dedicated dog theft lead. It is the first police force in England to do so. It said the introduction of a specialist officer should send a clear message that this type of crime would not be tolerated.
On the force’s website, Nottinghamshire’s chief constable, Craig Guildford, said:
“We want to prevent dogs being stolen in the first place, with the heartbreaking stress and trauma this causes the owners, and will be working hard to spread those messages.
“Secondly I want to send a clear message to those who seek to carry out this cold-hearted crime that it will not be tolerated, it is taken very seriously and we will come after you.”
The Chronicle asked Bedfordshire Police if it has plans to appoint a dog theft officer. In a statement, Bedfordshire Police said it remains dedicated to investigating all reports of dog theft in the area.
Chief Executive Clare Kelly, from the office of Police and Crime Commissioner, said:
“Dog theft has become a national issue and although there are steps we can take to prevent this crime that impacts families so greatly with the loss of a beloved pet, we must focus our attention on the offenders.
“Our own Community Policing teams have started a dog watch scheme with some financial support from the OPCC, we welcome this community approach to solving such as rising issue.”
The force will support anyone wishing to set up a local DogWatch group. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
The DogLost charity, which assists in the search for missing dogs and has donated two microchip scanners to the force’s rural team. These can now be used to identify stray or recovered dogs, or other animals, and items, like saddles, that have a microchip.
All dog lovers are asked to help spread this safety message in order to prevent much loved pets being targeted by criminals.
To discourage offenders please don’t buy dogs from social media sites or from anyone who cannot provide appropriate documentation.
Before purchasing your dog make sure you check the proof of ownership, health check and pedigree papers. Additionally, ask to see the puppy in its home environment with its mother.
To minimise the chance of becoming a victim yourself, please make sure that you are following safety advice:
- Be vigilant and cautious of suspicious individuals or markings seen around addresses, any cold callers and strangers approaching you whilst out dog walking
- Ensure your dog is microchipped and registered with up to date information and has a collar and dog tag (use your surname rather than the dog’s name and your telephone contact)
- Take plenty of clear photographs of your pet and especially of any distinctive markings
- Never leave a dog unattended in the garden, in the car or outside shops
- Don’t give details of your pets, your location or your favourite walking spots on social media and make sure your security settings are set to friends only
- When out, always know where your dog is. Be mindful of anyone who may be trying to distract your attention from your dog or attract your dog’s attention away from you
- Avoid leaving dogs in outside kennels if at all possible. If this is not possible then make sure the kennels are alarmed – experience tells us padlocks alone will not stop thieves
- Ensure all gates are locked at top and bottom with a shoot bolt and padlock and consider fitting a bell or gate alarm
- Ensure the garden or yard boundary (fence, hedge, etc) is secure so that no one can gain entry or pull your dog out. Ensure the dog cannot escape through any gaps
- Consider driveway alarms to alert you to intruders and combine this with the use of monitored CCTV that will alert you via your phone or tablet instantly
For more rural locations, think about uWatch, a multi-purpose security device that does not require WiFi or additional lighting.
If your dog has been stolen – report it to Bedfordshire Police by visiting its online reporting centre or by calling 101. You can also contact your local authority dog warden. (Bedford) (Central Bedfordshire) (Luton).