The UK government has been asked again and again to make stealing pets a specific criminal offence, rather than just part of the generic Theft Act 1968. And once again, it has refused.
Currently, pets are considered property, so stealing them comes under the same law as someone who nicks your trainers. As many campaigners have pointed out, this deeply undervalues pets – not just financially (special breeds can be thousands, or irreplaceable) but emotionally. Those of us who adopted rescues may not have paid any money for them at all, but their value to us is incalculable.
Not to mention that being taken away from their homes and owners by heartless thieves is extremely distressing for the pet being stolen, in the way that it just isn't for a pair of Air Jordans.
As one petition puts it:
"In the eyes of the law, stealing a beloved family dog is seen as the same as stealing a phone or bike.
The law should reflect the impact this crime has on the victims - both the families and the pets themselves. Dogs are sentient beings, not inanimate objects."
The campaign to get pet theft made a separate offence has intensified recently because crimes of this type sadly went through the roof during coronavirus lockdown, when more people wanted and got pets.
Speaking to the Petitions Committee, Beverley Cuddy (editor of Dogs Today) explains:
"Unfortunately in lockdown everyone wanted a dog and the prices went up and up and the criminals looked at those figures and looked at all those people who wanted dogs and put two and two together.
[...] They have taken a member of the family hostage and by not having anything in place which makes this a serious crime. We are enabling the most emotionally draining thing to happen to people."
Despite multiple petitions with hundreds of thousands of signatures, the government again gave a flat "nope."
Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said:
"The government fully understands the deep distress caused by the theft of a much-loved family pet and the importance of dealing with pet theft given this impact it can have on owners.
However, I should reiterate that stealing a pet is already a criminal offence under the Theft Act 1968 for which the maximum penalty is seven years' imprisonment."
In other words, the government is quite happy to consider sentient animals exactly the same as a pair of trainers, and apply punishment accordingly. In fact, in one petition response from last year, parliament referred to pets as "personal items," which tells you all you need to know about their attitude.
The chair of the Commons Petitions Committee says the government's response is "incredibly disappointing" and we entirely agree. [BBC]