More than three-quarters of dog owners say they are more scared of walking their pet because of the heightened risk it will be stolen, according to a major new study.
An overwhelming majority of the 124,729 people who responded to the landmark online survey said dog theft was a “serious problem” and thieves should face stiffer sentences.
The survey, promoted by Lincolnshire Police and Crime Commissioner Marc Jones, comes amid growing evidence that dogs have become a growing target for criminals.
DogLost, a UK charity that helps victims of dog theft, recorded a 170% increase in the crime, from 172 dogs reported stolen in 2019 to 465 dogs in 2020.
As people have spent more time at home as a result of the pandemic there has been a substantial rise in the value of puppies which has made them more desirable to unscrupulous thieves and would-be owners who are prepared to turn a blind eye to the suffering of the animals and their legitimate owners.
The survey attracted nearly 15,000 responses from the East Midlands region – which included Lincolnshire.
Key findings from the survey included:
- 97% said that dog theft is a serious problem
- 22% have had a dog stolen or knew someone who had over the last year
- 79% of those people said they had grown more fearful of taking their dog for a walk during the day 83% have grown more fearful of taking their dog for a walk at night
There was also strong support for changing the law to reflect the emotional impact of having a pet stolen.
At present, dog theft is not defined as a specific crime, with dogs classed as property under the Theft Act 1968. If caught, the penalty for stealing pets is generally a small fine or suspended sentence.
Thieves have also been known to target working dogs and support dogs of people who rely on them for their livelihood or for vital assistance.
According to the survey, 87% said that where pets provide their owner with companionship, sentencing guidelines should reflect this.
The survey, launched in partnership with the Association of Police & Crime Commissioners (APCC), will be used to help shape police recording and response to dog theft and could also influence how the crime is defined in the future.
About a third of respondents said they would like their local police force to take dog theft more seriously, rating them as poor at responding to their concerns.
Lincolnshire PCC Marc Jones said that currently police forces do not specifically record theft of pets and this makes it extremely difficult to fully understand the extent of the crime, track any trends and put in place the appropriate police response.
“I will be speaking with Lincolnshire Police about what can be done to better record information to aid preventative measures and police operations. I know that locally some dogs have been recovered by the force which is great but the public need to feel more reassured,” he said.
“I would like to thank everybody who took part in the survey which elicited such a huge public response. Pets are part of people’s family and the devastating emotional impact of this crime should no longer be overlooked.
“I have already spoken directly to the Home Secretary about the issue and will continue to urge her to consider the introduction of tougher measures to prevent pet thefts and increase sentences for offenders.”