United Kingdom

Ministers pledge action on pet theft with 'task force' to investigate boom during lockdown

A taskforce has been set up by the Government to put a stop to ‘cynical and nasty’ pet theft.

Soaring demand for pets over lockdown is said to have led to a surge in criminals stealing dogs.

The taskforce will look into what contributes to the increase in thefts and recommend solutions. 

One dog, three-year-old sprocker spaniel Ted, was taken in December while being walked in South London

It will consist of officials from the Department for Environment, the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice and the police, and will seek input from animal welfare groups.

Last year an estimated 2,438 dogs were reported as stolen in the UK, according to research by Direct Line Pet Insurance. 

Stealing a pet is already a criminal offence under the Theft Act 1968, with offenders facing a maximum penalty of seven years in prison.

Environment Secretary George Eustice said: ‘Pets are much-loved members of the family, and these reports will be distressing for all pet owners.

David Walliams, pictured above with his border terriers Bert and Ernie, backed a campaign to combat the UK’s dog theft crisis

‘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.’

Home Secretary Priti Patel said: ‘Having callous thieves steal a much-loved pet is heart-breaking for families and it is deplorable that criminals seek to profit from this cruel crime.

‘We are already taking action to combat such lawlessness by bolstering the police with 20,000 extra officers but this new taskforce will ensure we know how best to combat the driving forces behind this distressing crime and clamp down on the perpetrators.’

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, previously writing about pet theft said: ‘If you are cynical and nasty enough to steal a dog, in an organised gang, then you will almost certainly be party to other types of crime as well.’

According to DogsTrust, 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 per cent. 

Recent reports have suggested that the rise in demand could be leading to the increase in thefts.

The police have advised that dog owners should avoid leaving their pet unattended while out in public, vary their routines when walking their dogs and should take basic security steps at home such as checking locks on doors and garden gates.

The taskforce will aim to publish its recommendations in the autumn this year.

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