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Under the Theft Act, animal companions are legally regarded as inanimate objects when stolen. Stolen pets come under theft offences such as burglary or theft from a person. Sentencing is dependent on the monetary value of the stolen animal (under or above £500), and the crime is treated as a category 3 (fine to 2 years in custody) or 4 offence (fine to 36 weeks in custody) in magistrates court.
Pet Theft Reform would make pet theft a category 2 offence with a starting point of 2 years custody.
The sentencing guidelines now take account of the emotional distress and harm that theft of personal items such as a pet can have on the victim and recommends higher penalties for such offences.
The Government is sympathetic to the emotional trauma which the theft of a much-loved pet can cause. All reported crimes should be taken seriously, investigated and, where appropriate, taken through the courts and met with tough sentences. The theft of a pet is already a criminal offence under the Theft Act 1968 and the maximum penalty is seven years’ imprisonment and so there is no need to introduce a separate offence.
Sentencing is entirely a matter for our independent courts and must take into account the circumstances of each case. When deciding on an appropriate sentence, the courts consider any aggravating and mitigating factors, in line with sentencing guidelines issued by the Sentencing Council. In February 2016 the Sentencing Council updated its guidelines in relation to sentencing for theft offences. The guidelines take account of the emotional distress, and therefore harm, that theft of personal items such as a pet can have on the victim, and accordingly recommends higher penalties for such offences.
Since 6 April 2016, all dogs in England and Wales must be microchipped and registered on an approved database by the time they are eight weeks’ old. Since we made microchipping compulsory, the number of dogs microchipped has gone up from around 58% of all dogs in 2013 to over 90% of all dogs. This means that about 8.5 million dogs in the United Kingdom are microchipped. We also advise cat owners to get their cat microchipped and it was a manifesto commitment to introduce compulsory microchipping for cats. As part of this commitment we recently completed a Call for Evidence on cat microchipping which attracted over 3,000 responses. We are in the process of analysing the responses and will publish a summary of the responses together with a way forward in due course.
Owners should report the theft of their dog or cat to the database on which the animal’s microchip is registered, along with the corresponding crime reference number. There is a much better chance that animals will be returned to their owners if they are microchipped and their records kept up to date. Owners can take certain precautions to deter the theft of their dog, such as never letting their pet out of sight when it is being exercised; varying their routines when walking their dogs and not leaving their dog unattended when in public.
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs