The UK has taken another step to combat rising rates of dognapping and pet theft, after reports showed a staggering increase in the crimes during pandemic lockdowns.
In spite of the sharp rise in occurrence, dognappers are not often caught, and when they are, current UK law recognizes the crime as one of burglary, or a loss of possessions.
Critics say that this description doesn’t do justice to the emotional bonds and significance that pets bring to their owners’ lives or the pain of losing one.
The change has been put forward by the newly-established pet theft taskforce, and The Guardian reports that while details are scarce, the guidelines from the government will “prioritize the welfare of pets as sentient beings and recognize the distress to the animal in addition to its owner.”
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In March, the Nottinghamshire Police became the first force in the UK to establish a dog theft lead. Nottinghamshire’s deputy police and crime commissioner Emma Foody told Police Professional that “There is growing alarm – both locally and nationally – over the threat of dog theft. This has been fueled by a number of distressing incidents which have eroded public confidence.”
Whether the newly introduced measures will regain that confidence remains to be seen. The Justice Department in the US notes that “Increasing the severity of punishment does little to deter crime,” and that effectively deterring crime relies on convincing would-be criminals that they will be caught.
“The chance of being caught is a vastly more effective deterrent than even draconian punishment,” the site notes.
Currently, “only 1% of dog theft crimes [lead] to a prosecution” in the UK, according to a 2019-2020 study by animal charity Blue Cross.
While government action remains necessary to tackle the large-scale issue, experts recommend that owners keep a close eye on their pets when on walks in crowded areas or in an enclosed space such as a yard, as well as making sure they are microchipped to make recovery easier.
Lastly, joining an online social media group for local lost animals or even pets for sale can help owners spread the word about a lost pet.
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