A taskforce has been set up by the government to look into tackling the “deplorable” crime of pet theft, which has soared during the Covid-19 pandemic.
In March, DogLost, a UK charity that helps victims of dog theft, recorded a 170% increase in the crime, from 172 dogs reported stolen in 2019 to 465 in 2020.
The taskforce will look into what is contributing to the rise in dognapping, and recommend solutions to tackle the problem. It will be made up of officials from the Department for Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs, the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice as well as the police, seeking input from animal welfare groups and experts.
Dog-theft campaigners have called for pet theft to be made a specific offence, with more robust punishment than for the theft of property, and say those who are caught are often handed only a small fine or suspended sentence. According to the Pet Theft Reform campaign only 1% of dog theft crimes in recent years have led to a prosecution.
Campaigners have also called for reform of the current system of pet microchipping to improve the chances of reuniting stolen animals with their owners.
Dog ownership has boomed since the first national lockdown in March 2020 as people stuck at home acquired pets to lift their spirits. With the surge in demand came reports of rocketing prices, record numbers of ads and sales, a rise in unscrupulous breeding and soaring dog thefts, particularly of Instagram-friendly breeds such as French bulldogs, cockapoos and pugs.
According to Dogs Trust, the price for five of the UK’s most sought-after breeds grew during the first lockdown, in some cases by as much as 89%, with some breeds now worth more than £6,000. Reports have suggested this in particular could be propelling the increase in thefts.
The police have advised owners to avoid leaving their dog unattended while out in public, to vary their routines when walking them and to take basic security steps at home, such as checking locks on doors and garden gates. They have also said people should beware posting pictures of pets on social media that could reveal their location.
The environment secretary, George Eustice, said: “Pet owners shouldn’t live in fear so we’ve set up this taskforce to thoroughly investigate the issue and ensure that we have the measures in place to stop these criminals in their tracks.”
The home secretary, Priti Patel, said it was “deplorable” and “callous” that criminals sought to profit from stealing much-loved pets. “This new taskforce will ensure we know how best to combat the driving forces behind this distressing crime and clamp down on the perpetrators,” she said.
The taskforce will aim to publish its recommendations in the autumn.