A white dog with its nose in the air.

Pet Abduction Bill to be debated in Parliament next week

The Pet Abduction Bill will have its second reading in Parliament next Friday, as the number of pets recovered in London remains low.

The Bill will make offences of dog abduction and cat abduction, and will confer a power to government to make corresponding provision relating to other animals commonly kept as pets.

It was introduced by Conservative MP Anna Firth as a Private Members Bill and she is hoping the government will support it at its second reading.

 She said: “Pet theft has a devastating effect on the owners as well as on the dogs. This bill will put that right.”

Currently, pets are treated as property, and therefore when an animal is stolen, there is little punishment, and many are not returned to their owners.

Across London, from January to November 2023, 654 animals were stolen in 467 offences, according to data from the Metropolitan Police, more than half of which were dogs.

Often multiple animals are taken in one offence, notably, a thousand goldfish were taken from a residence in a burglary in Barking and Dagenham on 23 April 2022.

This means that the distribution of the offences across the city differs significantly from the distribution of animals stolen.

The borough with the highest number of animals stolen was Hounslow, with 93 pets stolen.

However, Lambeth had the highest number of offences at 28.

The reason that Hounslow had such a high number of animals stolen was because 69 birds were stolen in the borough in October across six offences, creating a large disparity between the number of animals stolen and number of offences.

The incidents are currently recorded as other offences, most commonly theft and handling.

Firth’s bill follows a long campaign to introduce such legislation and she said she chose to bring it forward because it is a massive issue in her constituency of Southend, it is an issue nationally and pays tribute to “animal welfare champion” former MP Sir David Ames, her predecessor.

The Stolen and Missing Pets Alliance have been campaigning since 2014 to change how pet theft is treated in law.

Co-founder Debbie Matthews said: “If someone does happen to get caught, they usually just get a small fine, even if dogs are still missing.

“There is no punishment. It is seen as a low risk, high reward crime.”

Furthermore, the emotional impact of a pet being stolen is not recognised, she said, and most are not recovered.

Only 6% of the animals stolen in the period were returned to their owners meaning that most owners never saw their pets again.

Of the 39 animals recovered, 25 were dogs and 12 cats.

Matthews added: “They are priceless, irreplaceable, members of our family.

“It is soul-destroying, you don’t get over it.”

If pet theft is made a specific offence, Matthews hopes there will be a deterrent and more animals will be recovered.

Currently, when pets are stolen, their owners attempt to campaign for their recovery themselves through appeals on social media, sites such as DogLost and posters in their area.

When Matthews’ dogs were stolen in 2006, she was able to get them back after two appeals on morning show GMTV.

As Bruce Forsyth’s daughter, she appeared on the show and one of her dogs Widget was returned that morning and after a follow up the next day, her second dog Gizmo was returned.

Gizmo had been sold after both dogs were taken from her car outside Marks and Spencer.

The campaign for pet theft to become an offence has been through many phases, with multiple petitions, the creation of a government pet theft taskforce in 2021, and an inclusion of the campaign in the Kept Animals Bill last year.

In May, the Kept Animals Bill was dropped from the government agenda.

Matthews said: “We hope this is a turnaround and we have been given this lifeline by Anna Firth.”

However, she was concerned that the bill could be dropped should Parliament be prorogued for an election before it is passed.

Responding to these concerns, Firth said: “Given that the Prime Minister has ruled out a May election, so providing the election is at the end of the year on 14 November, then I am hopeful that I will get this on the statute books before that.”

She secured the first Friday Parliament is sitting in 2024 for Private Members Bills for the second reading of the bill and is hoping the government will support it.

She said: “This is to give me the best chance of getting the long-overdue law on the statute books.”

Firth hopes that the bill will target penalties that take the emotional distress of a stolen pet into account which currently is considered as pets are treated as property.

Image credit: flowcomm

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