What is the Pet Theft Taskforce?

Pet Theft Task Force

What is the PET THEFT TASKFORCE and are they about to draft another piece of Christmas Cracker legislation?

The Pet Theft Taskforce is a governmental working group, with representatives from The Ministry of Justice, the Home Office, DEFRA, the Police, a handful of animal charities and questionable dog theft experts. The task force was established after the Home Secretary Priti Patel was grilled on live radio about what action she might take to tackle the rise in pet theft across the UK

The official remit of the taskforce is to:

  • Work with Police, law enforcement, and experts to understand and tackle pet theft
  • Consider the issue from end to end, including causes, prevention, reporting, enforcement, and prosecution
  • Make clear and timely recommendations on ways to reduce pet theft

However, in the policy document these objectives have been amended to read

  • Gather, research and commission work to build a clear evidence base of the scale of any issue
  • Consider the issue from end to end, including causes, prevention, reporting, enforcement, and prosecution
  • Make clear and timely recommendations on ways to improve the situation around pet theft

Closer scrutiny of these objectives, suggest the PTT will fall well short of most pet owner’s expectations.

The Experts

My concern is that without a single voice on the PTT who has firsthand experience in the investigation of animal theft the outcome will be the creation of unworkable and unpopular recommendations.

Pet Theft

Why is the taskforce addressing pet theft as opposed to dog theft? In 2020 only 450 cat thefts were recorded by UK Police forces and whilst I fully appreciate how traumatic it is for cat owners to lose a pet most of these offences will have been committed by neighbours seducing the cat away from its owner. These incidents can be resolved by a timely intervention by the local neighbourhood policing team. I suspect the term ‘Pet Theft’ has been used to justify the recent governmental proposal for the compulsory micro-chipping of all cats. Microchipping a cat will not prevent its theft, but it will certainly generate significant income for the microchip manufacturers and numerous database holders.

Reporting, Enforcement and Prosecution

These are the three most critical issues for the PTT to address. If they fail in one area, then they will fail in all three. Currently the Police do not have a specific offence of dog theft or cat theft (animal theft) on their crime recording systems therefore each Police force decides how these crimes are recorded. This haphazard approach to the recording of animal thefts creates a significant problem for the Police because they struggle to recover accurate data from their crime recording systems. In addition, they do not record every missing dog report as a crime which further hinders their ability to answer the question of prevalence. This may well explain why Senior Police Officers believe that dog theft is a ‘relatively rare offence’

If the Police do not believe that dog theft is a problem then there is little, or no enforcement action taken which has a direct impact on the number of prosecutions. Recent figures obtained through a freedom of information request by the Kennel club (only 36 of 45 Police forces responded) reveal that just 2 per cent of dog thefts recorded in 2020 were solved and only three Police forces charged anyone with an offence of dog theft. That means a staggering thirty-three Police forces failed to catch a single dog thief in 2020. Unbelievable!

This lack of enforcement action has given dog thieves years to perfect their methods and they have used the time well. The unprecedented demand for puppies in 2020 has seen the rise of the ‘Specialist Dog Thief’ likely to be responsible for approximately 80 per cent of all dog thefts committed in 2020. These career criminals do not waste their time stealing dogs tied up outside shops instead they target boarding kennels, breeders and country estates stealing as many as fourteen dogs in a single raid. The stolen dogs – which usually have their microchip removed – are then sold or distributed through a well-established criminal network resupplying the numerous puppy mills located across the UK.

There is also a major hurdle in the way of increasing prosecutions for dog theft. The Economist recently reported that the administration of justice is in a dire state with a backlog of over 60,000 crown court cases, that is 45 per cent more than the previous year and the highest ever recorded. The court services believes it will not be until 2023 that the backlog returns to pre-pandemic levels. This has already led to Crown Prosecution Service weeding out all but the strongest cases, evidenced by their recent decision not to prosecute a Sussex man for dog theft even though he was witnessed to put two stolen dogs in his truck. The man claimed that the dogs had jumped out of his truck when he stopped while on route to the RSPCA. The CPS believed that was a good enough excuse to drop the case. No justice for the dog owner and a kick in the teeth for the police officer who completed the investigation.

Ways to Reduce Pet Theft

Organized crime is now entrenched within the illegal breeding community and a vast amount of money is being made through their puppy mills. The only strategy that works when dealing with organized crime is to go after the money.

My recommendations are as follows:

  • Amend Police crime recording systems to include new category Theft of Animal
  • Introduce legal requirements for dog owners to inform local authority where they bought their dog (the breeder) and the amount paid
  • Introduce harsher penalties for theft offences where the property stolen is a live animal
  • Local authority/Police to adopt partnership approach to targeting illegal breeders
  • Introduce harsher penalties for illegal trading in animals (breeding/ distribution/advertising/selling)

Do the PTT have the stomach to take on the specialist dog thieves? Well, we will find out soon enough because their recommendations are due to be published within the next few weeks. It will be a ‘howling’ shame if all we get is the creation of yet another piece of legislation which is used as often as a toy from a Christmas cracker.


© 2020 Colin Butcher Author. All Rights Reserved.  Developed & hosted by JBS Print, Design & Websites

© 2020 Colin Butcher Author. All Rights Reserved.
Developed & hosted by JBS Print, Design & Websites