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Pet Theft In UK Set To Become A Criminal Offence

Just over a month ago on December 6, 2023, Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) Anna Firth, brought forward a Pet Abduction Bill which would mean that anyone guilty of stealing pets can be punishable by law. The suspect can face up to five years in prison, or be slammed with a large fine. 

Firth stated, “Taking a pet is a particularly cruel crime, but it adds insult to injury when a devastated family calls the police and they do very little about it… anyone who has had a cat or a dog knows that they are members of your family.”

As of January 19, the UK government announced its support for the legislation in England and Northern Ireland. However, a Private Members’ Bill such as this one is hard to become a law, but with the government backing this one, it is given levity. The Pet Abduction Bill mostly applies to dogs and cats but could eventually extend to other pets too. 

Even though this bill has hit a milestone, some people are still hesitant due to the government’s past unmet promises regarding animals. In 2021, dog theft was set to become a criminal offence, but it never followed through. Then, last year the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill which would address numerous animal welfare issues like illegal dog importation, standards within zoos, and so on, was dropped which promptly received backlash.

The Pet Abduction Bill is in its early stages. To get a bill passed as a law, there are several stages it has to go through. First of all, a bill is presented in the House of Commons, in which two reading stages take place before a committee stage, accompanied by a report stage and then a third reading. The bill is then passed through the same stages in the House of Lords. If it is successful, the final stages of consideration of amendments and royal assent will then legalise the bill. 

The House of Commons has completed the first two readings of the Pet Abduction Bill, and the committee stage is awaiting to be announced. The news of this update prompted Firth, Southend West’s MP, to respond, “I am absolutely delighted that the Pet Abduction Bill has passed its second reading, and will move on to the Committee stage. As a nation of pet lovers, it is vital that the law recognises the emotional impact that the abduction of a pet can have, and brings the perpetrators to justice that correctly reflects this.

“Pets are not merely property like a smartphone or watch – they are part of the family. It is not right that the law does not distinguish this and I am delighted that my bill will redress this wrong.”

Pets are currently considered as property by law, meaning pet theft is covered by the 1968 Theft Act but it has been found that 98 percent of pet thieves in the UK have never been charged. 

The last few years have seen a huge spike in pet theft; in 2022 1,713 animals were stolen just in London, the following year saw only six percent of stolen animals in London recovered to their homes, three percent higher than in 2022. London has been revealed to be the second biggest hotspot for pet theft, preceded by the North Western areas of the UK. The South East follows London in these statistics.

It has been said that the pandemic caused a surge in pet theft due to the demand for dogs during lockdown. Impulsive puppy buying also saw a rise in illegal breeding and transporting of dogs. The most stolen pets are dogs. According to the Daily Record, dogs are succeeded by birds, cats, chickens, rabbits, and horses. The dog breeds most susceptible to theft are:

  1. Staffordshire Bull Terrier
  2. Chihuahua
  3. French Bulldog
  4. German Shepherd 
  5. American Bulldog


Edited by Chloe Mansola

Image ‘Caged Dog’ by Jnncreatives licenced by CC BY-SA 4.0

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