Calls to make pet theft a specific criminal offence have been rejected by the government after a string of petitions calling for reform gained more than 250,000 signatures.
Justice secretary Robert Buckland wrote to parliament’s petitions committee saying that the offence was already covered in wider law.
The committee had called for pet theft to be made a specific crime after a series of campaign groups and petitions said the current laws were inadequate.
Campaigners called the government’s decision to reject the petition “totally unacceptable.”
— Missing Pets GB (@MissingPetsGB) July 30, 2020
The latest petition started by the Pet Theft hReform campaign group reached 85,000 signatures in 30 days and was supported by Dragon’s Den star Deborah Meaden.
Pet theft is currently covered under the 1968 Theft Act which can carry a maximum penalty of seven years imprisonment.
Campaigners say this is insufficient as it treats the pet as an inanimate object and does not reflect the emotional harm caused by the crime.
This means the law defines the severity of the crime purely on the owner’s loss of monetary value.
With most pets being valued below £500, most criminals convicted of stealing a family animal escape with a fine or community service.
When the UK went into lockdown as a response to the coronavirus pandemic interest in new pets skyrocketed forcing up prices making pet theft more tempting for criminals.
The Kennel Club group said in June demand for new dogs was up 180% from last year.
Pet theft has increased by 24% in the past three years, before factoring in the spike caused by coronavirus, according to campaign group Stolen and Missing Pets Alliance.
In 2018, figures showed more than 60 dogs were stolen every week in England and Wales.
Beverley Cuddy, editor of Dogs Today magazine, told the petition committee in June: “Lots of other crimes totally disappeared during lockdown – unfortunately dog theft went through the roof.
"We had some enormous, horrific organised crime. Twenty-two dogs were stolen in a heist like you get in a jewellers."
She said: "Each one of those puppies was going to be someone's lockdown puppy because 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."
A letter from committee chairwoman Catherine McKinnell to the Justice Secretary said: “Pet theft is a truly callous crime. It strikes at the heart of families and the evidence is showing that every year the Government fails to take action the problem is getting worse.”
McKinnell said harsher deterrents were needed as pet theft was “spiralling”.
She said it was disappointing the government rejected the petition as the notion had cross-party support and she would continue to press the issue.
In his response to the committee, 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.
“I understand the strength of feeling among campaigners regarding this issue, but the Government is satisfied that the existing law on theft already covers the criminal offence of pet theft.”