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‘Jaw dropping’ figures show rise in London dog thefts

London is one of the UK’s ‘dog theft hotspots’, but fewer than one in ten cases led to criminal charges last year, shocking new figures show.

Fourteen per cent of all dog thefts in the UK in 2020 happened in the capital. Charges were brought in under ten per cent of those cases, and in around half of them a suspect has never been identified.

Nationally, dog snatching has risen by seven per cent since 2019, attributed to high demand for ‘pandemic puppies’ during lockdown.

There are now around 196 cases of dog theft every single month across the country and more than 500 stolen since a new government taskforce was set up to tackle the issue in May.  Across the country, convictions are only secured in around two per cent of cases.

A new analysis of data secured through Freedom of Information Requests, by the Kennel Club, found that in London there were 318 dog thefts in 2020, the second highest in the UK after the North West, and just 29 criminal charges.

No suspect was identified in almost half (46 per cent) of these reported dog theft cases in the capital, and in seventeen per cent a suspect was identified but no action was taken, due to ‘evidential difficulties’.

“Dog theft has devastating consequences for both the owners and the animals involved and it is quite frankly jaw dropping that 98 per cent of cases never result in a criminal charge and in more than half, no suspect is ever identified,” said Bill Lambert, health, welfare and breeder services executive at The Kennel Club.

“Not only that but when a sentence is handed out it is often treated no more seriously than a petty crime, despite the fact that there is nothing ‘petty’ about pet theft.

“The low charge rates and the paltry sentences are an almost open invitation to criminals looking to target innocent dog owners.

“Whilst most people will never be unfortunate enough to fall victim to this crime, those that do are left totally bereft but without a clear route to justice.

“We welcome the government taking this issue seriously and hope that the taskforce can deliver meaningful change that will give greater transparency in how we report and record this crime, and deliver more proportionate sentences that treat dog theft with the seriousness it deserves.”

Amongst the actions being called for as part of The Kennel Club’s ‘Paw and Order: Dog Theft Reform’ campaign is for more resources to be allocated to investigating these crimes, and for more transparent, centralised collection of data about pet theft, including the number of crimes, arrests and convictions.

Currently, there is no central record in order to help decision makers understand the scale of the problem or the circumstances around it – for example, whether a theft was driven by opportunism or organised crime.

The Kennel Club is also calling for a reclassification of how dog theft is treated in the law, as currently sentencing is based on the monetary value of the pet rather than giving sufficient weight to the emotional impact of the crime. In court, dog theft is often treated in a similar way to the theft of a laptop or mobile phone. If changed to a ‘category one offence’ offenders could be jailed for up to seven years.

Bill advised owners to be vigilant: “There are steps that people can take to help protect their dogs. A dog should never be left unsupervised, whether out and about or at home in the garden and it should have a reliable recall, so that you can always see its whereabouts,” he added.

“It is important that all dogs are microchipped, and that their details are kept up to date with their microchip database, and that information about your dog, such as its price or address, isn’t shared with strangers.”


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