As well as the hugely concerning consequences for the health and welfare of the dogs stolen, pet theft also has emotional impacts for owners, who love and treat their dogs as family members. Emotional impacts that owners of stolen dogs have reported include depression, poor mental health, breakdown in social lives, and even marriage breakdown. It is only right that dog theft criminals face punishment which reflects the harm of their actions, rather than a minimal community order or small fine.
As part of our ‘Paw and Order: Dog Theft Reform’ campaign, we submitted 'Freedom of Information' requests to every police force in the country in order to better understand the extent of the problem. According to the data, there were an estimated 2,355 cases of dog theft in 2020 – amounting to approximately 196 dogs stolen, to the heartbreak of their owners, every single month. This was a 7% increase from 2019, in which there were an estimated 2,199 cases of dog theft.
Disappointingly, police were unable to identify a suspect and no further action was taken in nearly 60% of cases between 2015 and 2020. Perhaps more shockingly, the percentage of cases across England and Wales resulting in a charge brought against a suspect dropped to 2% in 2020.
Only 6% of cases between 2015 and 2020 resulted in action being taken against a suspect, ranging from a caution, to a charge, to a community resolution. Anecdotal evidence that we have collected suggests that, even when action is taken and an offender is convicted, sentences are extremely woeful.
England and Wales
Currently, the Sentencing Council classifies theft under the Theft Act 1968 into four different offence categories, ranging from Category 4 (up to £500 worth of stolen goods and little or no significant additional harm to the victim or others) up to Category 1 (goods stolen with a value of £100,000 or above or high value with significant additional harm to the victim or others).
Under this guidance, the maximum sentence for theft is seven years’ imprisonment. However, due to the relatively low financial value of dogs, sentences for pet theft are typically much lower.
In the eyes of the law, dogs are considered inanimate objects – in the same way as property, such as TVs and mobile phones – and sentencing therefore does not fully reflect the emotional value of a pet.
Courts are required to follow relevant guidelines issued by the Sentencing Council, which was most recently updated in February 2016.
In Northern Ireland, a person guilty of theft can receive up to ten years’ imprisonment. However, the typical sentencing range for theft in general varies between a Community Order to six months’ custody.
While the responsibility for the legislative framework for sentencing lies with the devolved Government, independent judges decide individual sentences and must consider aggravating factors, including value of the loss and the impact on victims and others.
Similarly to England and Wales, pets are currently classed as property when stolen.
In 2019, the Scottish Government legislated for a presumption against use of short prison sentences – 12 months or less – as a means to increase the use of more effective methods of addressing offending and rehabilitation. Such measures used by judges include Community Payback Orders.
The Scottish Sentencing Council intends to issue guidelines regarding sentencing for theft once it has fully monitored and reviewed the impact the new legislation has in practice.
The Kennel Club’s position
Currently, undue weighting is placed on a pet’s monetary value as opposed to their emotional worth when sentencing those guilty of pet theft. The value of a large proportion of older dogs stolen would be deemed well under £500 – the monetary threshold for which an offence is considered category four – meaning that owners of such dogs are unlikely to receive the justice they deserve. As such, we are calling on the UK Government and the devolved administrations to amend sentencing provisions in order to ensure a dog’s sentience, their role within their family, and the emotional harm inflicted on pet owners victim to this crime are fully taken into account.
Despite currently carrying a maximum penalty of seven years’ imprisonment in England and Wales, Rt Hon. George Eustice MP – then Minister of State for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – highlighted in 2018 that there was little evidence of the maximum sentence provisions being used and a much more lenient approach is typically pursued in cases that end up in court. There is also little evidence of maximum sentences being handed out to dog theft criminals in Scotland and Northern Ireland. In cases where a suspect is identified and there is sufficient evidence to proceed with further action, less than 5% of cases result in a suspect being charged.
Data transparency and police resources
More transparent data regarding pet theft, such as the number of crimes, arrests, and convictions, would highlight the true extent and severity of the problem. When The Kennel Club was obtaining data regarding pet theft via Freedom of Information requests, only 32 police forces across England and Wales were able to provide complete data regarding the number of dogs stolen per year between 2015 and 2020. Data from the other devolved administrations was also disappointingly scarce. We are calling on the UK Government, Scottish Government and Northern Irish Executive to allocate more resources to this issue, implement a standardised recording procedure, and create a publicly accessible database to record incidents. We believe that this would provide greater transparency regarding dog theft, whilst also potentially increasing the percentage of dogs reunited with their owner.
Advice to owners
As The Kennel Club is responsible for Petlog, the UK’s largest microchipping database, we are constantly encouraging owners to ensure their dogs are microchipped and their details are kept up to date. We believe that microchipping, since becoming a legal requirement, is a crucial instrument in reuniting owners with stolen dogs. We encourage owners to contact their pet’s microchipping database and report their crime reference number given by the police if their dog is stolen.
Other necessary precautionary measures to reduce the risk of pet theft include ensuring the property is fully secured to prevent intruders from gaining access, remaining vigilant, supervising dogs in public spaces, and reporting any suspicious activity to the police.
We hope that you will support our Paw and Order campaign. You may wish to download our pet theft template letter – to send to your elected representative (including your MP and/or representative in your devolved administration) to show your support and to let them know how they can get involved.
You can also find our guide to letter writing and meeting with your parliamentary representative below.
Our guide to letter writing
While we know that it is much easier simply to copy a letter and send it off, your parliamentary representative is far more likely to take notice if you write your own letter. Use the guideline below to draft your own letter:
[YOUR HOUSE NUMBER AND STREET]
[NAME OF POLITICIAN]
[PARLIAMENT OR ASSEMBLY ADDRESS]
Paragraph 1: Why you are writing
The first paragraph of your letter should always introduce your concerns to your parliamentary representative. For example:
‘I am writing to you regarding the issue of [INSERT TOPIC], to ask that you support The Kennel Club’s campaign to...’
(This information can be found on the relevant campaign page of our website.)
Paragraph 2: What you want to change
Each of the campaign’s pages on The Kennel Club’s website outlines the organisation’s official position and what is being done to try and push for change. This information can act as a guideline for telling your parliamentary representative how existing legislation needs to be amended.
If you are writing to request that your parliamentary representative support The Kennel Club on a specific issue, you may wish to use something along the lines of the following wording as an introduction to the paragraph:
‘The Kennel Club acts as a voice for thousands of dog owners across the United Kingdom. Supported by its vast expertise and experience on dog-related matters, The Kennel Club is proposing the following…’
…then write a bullet-point list into your letter.
Paragraph 3: Why these changes are necessary
Providing politicians with evidence will demonstrate that your concerns are valid. Use facts and figures to support your argument, and describe any personal experiences that you may have had to make your case even more powerful.
Paragraph 4: Action points
Tell your parliamentary representative the line of action that you wish them to take on this matter. This could be taking the matter up with their party, raising the issue in parliament, signing an EDM or supporting a specific Bill. If you are unsure what to write in this paragraph, contact The Kennel Club's public affairs team for advice.
Paragraph 5: Signing off
Request a reply. You may also wish to arrange a face-to-face meeting to discuss the issue further. Then all that is left to do is sign off:
‘I look forward to hearing from you.
[INSERT YOUR NAME]’
Once you have received a reply
To help keep us up-to-date on which politicians are aware/supportive of our campaigns, please photocopy or summarise the response you receive and send it to us by email or by post to: The Kennel Club Public Affairs, 1-5 Clarges Street, Piccadilly, London, W1J 8AB.
If your parliamentary representative has agreed to meet with you, read our guide to a successful meeting with parliamentary representatives below.
Our guide to a successful meeting with parliamentary representatives
Most parliamentary representatives hold surgeries where constituents can meet them face to face. Sometimes notices of surgeries appear in local newspapers, but if not you can contact your MP, MSP, AM or MLA’s office directly to book your appointment in advance.
Five steps to success
- Preparation is key. Make a list of questions/topic areas that you want to discuss with your parliamentary representative. Go armed with facts and figures to support your argument. You should also take a notepad and pen to write down any important points for reference
- Be direct. Introduce yourself and what you are there to discuss. State your concerns clearly, countering any opposing points that they may make. Do not become emotional – you will make a stronger argument by being calm and reasonable throughout
- Listen and respond constructively. Once you have made your position, allow your MP/MSP/AM/MLA to present you with his/hers. Listen carefully for areas of agreement and disagreement, always be positive and try to ask questions that will probe their personal viewpoint rather than that of their party
- Be aware of time. Stick to the issue and try not to get sidetracked into general debate - you will have a limited amount of time with him/her and it is important to make sure you get across all the points you wish to make
- At the end of the meeting and beyond… Thank them for the meeting, summarise your discussion and outline the steps you can take going forward. Let them know that they can contact you in the future to discuss the issue further.
For further information or advice, please contact The Kennel Club public affairs department on 020 7518 1020 or by email.