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What does the law say about pet theft?

The theft of a pet currently falls under the Theft Act 1968, which treats a stolen pet as the loss of the owner’s property. This is because the law treats pets as chattels (ie personal possessions) and, therefore, the same rules apply to stolen pets as apply to other stolen possessions (eg mobile phones, bicycles or TVs).

Under the Theft Act 1968, stealing someone’s personal possessions carries a maximum sentence of 7 years imprisonment. However, in practice, there is little evidence that such a harsh 7-year punishment is often handed down, as sentence severity is partially based on the monetary value of the stolen item. As the monetary value of pets is seldom very high (it’s normally less than £500), sentences for pet theft have historically been less stringent.

Generally, the penalty for stealing pets is a small fine or a suspended sentence.

What should I do if my pet is stolen?

If your pet is stolen, just like any other theft, this should be reported to your local police force as soon as possible. Provide as much information as possible about your pet, including: 

  • a description of your pet’s appearance (consider providing photos)

  • your pet’s microchip number (if your pet is chipped)

  • when your pet was stolen

  • what you know about your theft’s pet (eg if you or someone else witnessed the theft, provide a clear description of the thief or their vehicle)

Ask the police to provide you with a crime reference number and make a note of it. This ensures that your pet’s theft is recorded as a crime (rather than an incident) and allows you to follow up on the progress of the case. 

If your pet is microchipped, tell the microchip company and ask them to mark your pet as stolen. Also provide them with your crime reference number. This way, if your pet is found and their microchip scanned, the person scanning the chip will know that the pet is stolen and can alert the police. You can find out what database your pet’s microchip is registered with using the Check a Chip tool

If your dog is stolen, you should inform your dog warden (if one exists) by checking with your local council. Dog wardens are responsible for missing dogs while the police are responsible for stolen dogs. Alerting your local dog warden is always worthwhile, even when your dog has been stolen,   as your dog may end up in their care.

Register your pet with missing animal websites (eg Animal Search, Pets Reunited and National Pet Register). Provide relevant information about your pet, including photos, and flag your pet as stolen. Where possible, include your crime reference number. 

You should alert local vets and rescue centres, providing a description of your stolen pet and your contact details. You should also consider putting up posters in the area from which your pet was stolen. Some parks or public locations (eg supermarkets) may even have notice boards where you can place missing pet details.

How can I protect my pet from being stolen?

It is advisable to put in place measures to protect your pet against being stolen or becoming a target. For example, consider:

  • not leaving your pet unattended in public (eg outside a shop or unattended in a car)

  • locking your doors and windows when you go out and your pet is home to deter burglars. This also prevents your pet from leaving your home

  • training your pet to return to you when called

  • avoiding sharing too many details about your pet online (eg your dog-walking routines)

  • keeping recent photos of your pet and making notes of any distinguishing features

  • microchipping your pet (note that it is a legal requirement for dogs to be microchipped and will become a legal requirement for cats in England to be microchipped on 10 June 2024) and ensuring that your contact details on the database are up to date, especially if you move or change your phone number

  • neutering your pet to reduce the risk of roaming

  • taking care when choosing someone to look after your pet while you’re away or at work, making sure to use a reputable businesses or boarding kennels and checking references for those providing pet- or house-sitting services

  • putting collars on your pet and, if you have a dog, ensuring they wear an ID tag with your name and address engraved on it when you are out and about (as is required by law)

For more information, see the RSPCA’s guidance on stopping pet theft.

What is the Pet Theft Taskforce?

In May 2021, the government launched the Pet Theft Taskforce. This Taskforce is made up of government officials, local authorities, police, and prosecutors. Their purpose is to receive and consider evidence from academics, campaigners, animal welfare groups, and other experts, and to make recommendations regarding pet abduction.

The Taskforce has made a variety of recommendations, including:

  • the creation of a new criminal offence dealing specifically with pet theft, which acknowledges the true severity of the crime

  • improving the collection of reliable data on pet theft, to build more evidence regarding the crime in order to come to a suitable solution

  • improving the recording of pet ownership and transfer data by introducing one single point of access for all pet microchipping databases (of which there are currently 16), to record relevant details, including the transfer of pets to new owners, to ensure full traceability

  • tackling the fear of pet theft by having the police work with partner agencies to raise awareness about police initiatives and by introducing preventive measures regarding pet theft

It’s hoped that the Taskforce’s proposed changes will make it easier for the police to track incidents of pet abduction and to apprehend offenders.

What is the new pet abduction law?

Under the proposed changes, the theft of a pet would be a new, separate criminal offence, under which abducted pets would be recognised as sentient beings. The new offence also intends to prioritise the welfare of the pet and recognises the distress pet abduction causes to both owners and pets alike. It is not yet known what the maximum sentence for pet abduction would be.

This Bill containing the new pet abduction offence is currently making its way through Parliament. If it’s successfully passed, it will be brought into force in due course.

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