Huge rise in stolen dogs shows the law needs changing


Crimes targeting family pets tend to attract public revulsion. Yet when it comes to punishing the perpetrators, current laws are woefully inadequate.

I saw that for myself when I covered a dog-napping court case last week. Labradors Denzel and Welly had been briefly tied up outside M&S, in Nantwich, while their owner popped into the store.

Within two minutes, the pets had disappeared. They were found three days later at an address in Tunstall following a tip-off from a member of the public.

Thief Malachy Doherty was jailed for 26 weeks for the crime. A warrant has now been issued for the arrest of his 14-year-old accomplice after he failed to turn up for his trial.

Doherty had previous convictions, which meant his chances of custody were greater. But nationally, only one per cent of dog thefts result in a prosecution.

And as the 1968 Theft Act treats pets as property, rather than sentient beings, those who are hauled before the courts often just get a fine.

District Judge Nick Sanders vented his frustration when he sentenced Doherty at South Cheshire Magistrates’ Court.



Malachy Doherty, centre, and Denzel and Welly who were stolen

He told him: “This is not theft of a push bike. It’s the theft of two family pets. I cannot begin to imagine the distress you caused that family.”

Doherty had felt the full force of public opinion before he stood in the dock. Keyboard warriors on social media had made threats towards him and his partner. Their comments clearly overstepped the mark.

Yet it doesn’t detract from the underlying problem. Dog theft is now seen as a ‘low risk, high value’ offence. It’s become an offshoot of organised crime.

The huge increase in thefts has been fuelled by the rise in families getting dogs during the pandemic to help keep them company at home.

The charity DogLost found dog-napping cases rose from 172 in 2019 to 465 in 2020 – a 170 per cent surge.


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It coincided with pets becoming far more valuable in monetary terms. The average price of an animal is now around £800, with puppies selling for as much as £2,500. Instagram-friendly breeds like pugs and cockapoos are popular targets.

And as many social media users post cute pictures of their pets online, they run the risk of criminals being able to trace where the animals live. Around half of dogs that are stolen are taken from gardens.

Education is usually seen as part of the solution. If we can educate pet owners to take better steps to protect their beloved animals, it will help. And so will teaching schoolchildren that dog theft is an abominable crime.

But academics themselves are also helping in the fight to win legal changes.

Dr Daniel Allen, an animal geographer from Keele University, set up the Pet Theft Reform campaign which has attracted huge support nationally.

Working with the Stolen and Missing Pets Alliance (Sampa), it has involved a series of petitions, calling on the Government to act. The campaign is finally gaining political traction.

In an article for The Conversation, Dan wrote: “The only way the rise in dog theft can be tackled is by implementing pet theft reform to make this crime a specific offence with custodial sentences. Anything less and the damaging upward trend will likely continue.”

Unbelievably, police forces don’t even have a standardised way of recording pet theft. That’s made it harder to track the trends.

Home Secretary Priti Patel recently launched a pet theft taskforce to help understand the factors contributing to the rise in dog-napping.

Working across several ministerial departments, it will be an important first step. But the Government now needs to commit to going further if it really wants to help protect our precious loved ones.

We would never dream of treating the kidnapping of a child so leniently in the courts. So why should we accept it for man’s best friend?



Kathie is the Education Reporter for StokeonTrentLive.

You can follow her on Facebook here and Twitter here.

You can contact Kathie at katherine.mcinnes@reachplc.com





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