UK charity DogLost has recorded a 170 per cent increase in dog thefts across the country over the last 12 months, from 172 in 2019 to 465 in 2020.
A survey carried out by police leaders, including Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne, has revealed more than three-quarters of dog owners have become more wary of walking their dogs during the day for fear of theft.
Of the 124,729 people asked, 97 per cent felt dog theft is a serious problem.
Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne said: “Police forces across the country need a ‘flag’ for reports of dog theft on their systems as currently it is extremely difficult to track this crime trend and put in place an appropriate police response
“I will be speaking with my Chief Constable about how we can use this data to inform future enforcement and preventative measures that we put in place.”
In Sussex, under the newly introduced dedicated police response to pet theft, Operation Collar, all future reports made to Sussex Police about pet theft will be tagged and tracked.
Mrs Bourne continued: “I would like to thank everybody who took part in this unique survey which elicited such a huge public response. Pets are part of people’s family and the devastating emotional impact of this crime should no longer be overlooked.
“There is a clear message that police forces need to communicate better with the public on this issue. Public perception and fear have increased massively, so much so that nearly 83% of respondents are scared of walking their dogs at night.
“The Home Office have asked to discuss the findings and how we can develop measures that will protect people’s pets and boost public confidence. I will be exploring whether it is time to consider defining pet theft as a specific crime.”
Key findings from the police and crime commissioners' survey revealed:
- 97% said that dog theft is a serious problem
- 22% have had a dog stolen or knew someone who had over the last year
- 79% of people, to whom the question was applicable, said they had grown more fearful of taking their dog for a walk during the day
- 83% have grown more fearful of taking their dog for a walk at night
- There was also strong support for changing the law to reflect the emotional impact of having a pet stolen.
Dog theft is not currently defined as a specific crime, with dogs classed as 'property' under the Theft Act 1968.
If caught, the penalty for stealing pets is generally a small fine or suspended sentence, with the Pet Theft Reform campaign reporting that in recent years only 1 per cent of dog theft crimes have led to a prosecution.
According to the survey, 87 per cent said that where pets provide their owner with companionship, sentencing guidelines should reflect this and disagreed that the theft of a pet should be categorised under property theft.
Dr Daniel Allen, an Animal Geographer at Keele University, who set up the Pet Theft Reform campaign with the Stolen and Missing Pets Alliance in 2018, said: “The number of survey responses shows the extent to which the public are concerned about dog theft crime. Further research is needed to build the ‘evidence base’ and inform the response to dog theft moving forwards.”
The Home Secretary has said in recent media interviews that she will review pet theft, with potentially tougher penalties for perpetrators.
The survey, the largest ever conducted by PCCs, will be used to help shape police recording and response to dog theft and could also influence how the crime is defined.
About a third of respondents said they would like their local police force to take dog theft more seriously, rating them as poor at responding to their concerns; 48 per cent said they didn’t know how effective their local force was in this area.