Pet thieves could be looking at up to five years in jail under a proposed new criminal offence.
The Government has set out plans to crack down on dog theft in its Kept Animals Bill.
Previously, pet theft was treated as a loss of property, but the new dog abduction offence will also factor in the emotional distress caused to both the pet and the owner.
Animal welfare groups have ‘wholeheartedly welcomed’ the move, saying they’re pleased that the Government has recognised how heartbreaking it can be to have your pet stolen.
Those who steal four-legged friends will now face jail sentences of up to five years.
The dog abduction offence is being added following a recommendation by the Pet Theft Taskforce, launched in May 2021 to tackle the reported rises in people’s pets being stolen.
More than 2000 incidents of animal theft were reported to police last year, with around 70% of those involving dogs.
Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “The loss of a much-loved pet causes unique distress. I am pleased that we are legislating to recognise this specific crime.
“The new dog abduction offence will reflect the impact on animals in penalties for criminals, and deliver justice for victims.
Chief veterinary officer, Dr Christine Middlemiss said: “The recognition of the distress caused to animals by pet theft is an important step forward, treating them as sentient beings rather than merely property.”
David Bowles, head of public affairs at the RSPCA, said: “The theft of a pet is devastating and we’re pleased the Government has announced these amendments which we hope will act as a real deterrent to those who carry out this crime.
“While the current proposed law applies to dogs, we are really pleased to see the Government has also recognised how much other animals mean to people as well, and put in provision to extend it to other pets.
“We hope this new law, which will see sentences up to five years, will help crackdown on the heart-breaking issue of pet theft.”
Paula Boyden, veterinary director at Dogs Trust, said: “Having your beloved pet stolen is an extremely stressful, often heart-breaking experience.
“For years, Dogs Trust has called for harsher penalties to deter those who profit from this despicable crime.
“We wholeheartedly welcome the measures the Government has taken today to tackle pet theft and prioritise the welfare of our pets as sentient beings, and very much hope that the increased sentencing will make pet thieves think twice.”