Environment Secretary George Eustice said there has been a “worrying” rise of pet thefts during the Covid pandemic, but said the creation of the pet theft taskforce will help deal with the issue.
The UK has seen a rise in pet thefts since last year, with it being estimated that dog thefts in particular have risen by 250 per cent since the Covid pandemic began last March.
‘Catch those involved with this terrible crime’
Police warned pet owners earlier this year that organised criminals were increasingly turning to dog theft, as the demand for puppies in particular continued to rise during lockdown.
Mr Eustice said that the rise of organise gangs stealing pets is a worry, but that the creation of a pet taskforce will allow the scale of the problem to be looked at further, with the sharing of intelligence between different police forces.
He told BBC Breakfast: “Although the data is difficult to get a handle on, most of the estimates we have and reports suggest that pet theft may have doubled in the last 12 months – some people put it even higher than that.
“Demand for pets has risen, in some ways that is understandable – people have been spending more time at home, often sometimes suffering from loneliness and so they have sought to get a pet.
“But what has been worrying is that there do appear to be a rise of, sometimes organised, gangs stealing pets in order to sell them.”
The Environment Secretary added: “That is why we have set up a pet theft taskforce. It is going to first of all get to grips with the data so we can understand the scale of the problem but also see if we can improve co-ordination and intelligence sharing between police forces.
“There have been some successful raids and operations in places like Hertfordshire and Essex, and we want to learn from those successes to ensure we can catch those involved with this terrible crime that causes huge trauma for people.”