|Dog theft changes debated in parliament
A debate on dog theft in Parliament last Monday called on the government to change the law so that the theft of a dog can be categorised as a crime in its own right.
Campaigners want to change section 4(4) of the 1968 Theft Act which already has a provisions for the theft of mushrooms and wild animals.
A tweak to the Act could make the theft of a dog a specific crime and set a maximum sentence that would act as a deterrent.
The debate was called after a petition on the issue was started by animal geographer Dr Daniel Allen, who teamed up with the Stolen and Missing Pets Alliance (SAMPA) to campaign on the issue.
Within a few short months the petition had received over 105,000 signatures demonstrating that there is tremendous support from the public for the government to change the law. A recent survey revealed that 94 percent of people were unhappy with the current low sentencing boundaries to pet theft.
A number of animal welfare organisations have also pledged their support including Dogs Trust and Blue Cross.
Before the debate Blue Cross said in a statement, 'We hope today's Westminster Hall debate led by Mike Hill MP and tomorrow's Ten Minute Rule Bill by Ross Thomson MP, into the current legislation relating to pet theft, take into account the strong public desire for increased penalties and sentencing regarding stolen dogs, cats and other animals, who are beloved family members.'
There is considerable cross party support and speakers from all sides of the house endorsed the plan.
Mike Hill MP for Hartlepool led the debate and he also pointed out the support that exists within the national and canine media and that a number of celebrities have leant their support including Ricky Gervais, Peter Egan, Miranda Hart and the late Bruce Forsyth.
A number of MPs pointed out that over 2,000 dogs a year are stolen and that only 5 percent of thefts lead to a conviction. Jim Cunningham added that, 'if someone loses their dog or it is stolen, then regardless of the value, it is like a death in the family.'
Under the law as it stands a dog is treated as the same as any other commodity rather than a sentient being loved by its family.
Bob Stewart, MP for Beckenham, made a historical point saying, 'I am worried that we seem to be going backwards. In 1770, the Act preventing the stealing of dogs received Royal Assent. Anyone caught was fined or imprisoned or suffered hard labour, I think it was adjusted in 1846. The Theft Act 1968 seems to have removed the requirement to deal with people who steal dogs, which is a shame.'
Dog Theft is a growing problem and research by Direct Line showed that the number of dogs stolen across Britain has increased by nearly 7 percent in the last 12 months. In 2017 there were five dogs a day stolen. The most stolen dog breed is the Staffordshire Bull Terrier.
Sue Hayman, MP for Workington, said, 'It is thought that the lack of prosecution and the lenient punishments are contributing to this rise. Pet theft offenders receive community service orders or a fine more often than a custodial sentence, certainly not the seven years that could be handed out.'
OUR DOGS recently reported on the case of four dog thieves who walked away from court despite being found guilty of stealing 15 Cavalier King Charles Spaniels - https://bit.ly/2z5Gs87.
Often dogs are stolen to be used for dog fighting, to sell or to breed from. They can be taken from gardens, when being walked and from outside shops. Sometimes gangs target particular dogs that they want to steal.
Ross Thomson, as Blue Cross intimated, spoke on the debate and he was planning to bring a Ten Minute Rule Bill on the issue on Tuesday.
Replying for the government George Eustice, Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, said, 'The Government's view is that the Theft Act 1968 provides sufficient sanctions to deal with the problem.'
He said that as regards sentencing, new guidelines were set in 2016 which take into account the, 'emotional distress to the victim or where the item stolen is of a substantial value, regardless of the monetary worth, will indicate a higher level of seriousness and the offender should be sentenced accordingly.'
Mr Eustice said that the government feel that under the current guidance pet thieves should receive a maximum of a one or two year sentence and that, 'would seem to be an appropriate sentence.'
Interestingly, the minister said that dog theft would be a category two or three offence. If it was a category two offence it would result in a three and half year sentence.
However, the sentencing guidelines state that pet theft is a category three or four offence resulting in a fine or community service.
Dr Allen spoke to OUR DOGS, 'I want to look at the positives. George Eustice was not convinced of change and he did admit that a seven year sentence is largely theoretical.
'He also said that it was a category two offence and if he meant to say that then that is positive. We need the government to clarify that with the sentencing committee if is category two for magistrates.
'Pet theft legislation is now on the agenda and it has a chance of becoming a reality.
'I am more positive than a lot of people and it is a matter of persevering and being positive. More people are going to want pet theft reform. It is a positive change to protect our pets.
'On paper it looks negative but looking at it closely it looks positive.
'Ross Thomson's Ten Minute Rule Bill brings it into the main chamber and more MPs will get to know about it.
'This is a cross party issue and by working together we can make a difference. The campaign has been inclusive, we have had support from animal rights people and the shooting fraternity and they never come together!
'The numbers supporting this are going to keep rising.'
There was good news on Tuesday as Mr Thomson's Ten Minute Rule Bill was heard without any objections and goes through for its second reading.