Calls for tougher sentences for dog thieves

Sentences have no bite (WikiCommons/LDRS)

80 pets stolen annually in Devon and Cornwall

The south west is reported to be the area with the highest prevalence of dog thefts, according to a national survey by the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners.

More than 17,000 people from Devon, Cornwall, Somerset, Gloucestershire and Dorset responded to poll, in which more than three-quarters of dog owners said they were more scared of walking their pet because of the risk that it would be stolen. The survey comes amid growing evidence that dogs have become a target for criminals.

Devon and Cornwall’s police and crime commissioner Alison Hernandez said the response she’s received is significant. In the two counties about 80 dogs are stolen a year and there is some evidence that there has been an increase during the covid pandemic.

Of the 124,729 people who responded online nationally, an overwhelming majority said dog theft was a ‘serious problem’ and thieves should face stiffer sentences. 

DogLost, a UK charity that helps victims of dog theft, recorded a 170 per cent increase in the crime, from 172 dogs reported stolen in 2019 to 465 dogs in 2020.

Alison Hernandez said: “At the moment pets are treated in the eyes of the law like any other possession. Tougher sentences for dog thieves would send the message that for most people companion animals are far more than that – they are part of the family. Since launching the survey I have heard from many dog owners who are frightened that they will have their animals stolen. This tells me more needs to be done.”

Key findings from the survey:

·       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. If caught, the penalty 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 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 and led by Sussex PCC Katy Bourne, 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.

Advice on keeping your pet safe and what to do if it goes missing is available on the Devon and Cornwall Police website at


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