Dog Theft: A New Offence, for an Old Reason?

The Government is currently in the process of passing legislation to create a new offence of dog theft. As is to be expected, there is a press release on the Government website promoting this development of criminal law brought to us by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs.

The Kept Animals Bill is going to introduce not only the offence of dog theft, but will also feature measures to “further protect pets, livestock and kept wild animals.”

The supposed demand for action to be taken about dog thefts stems from the covid-19 pandemic in 2020-21. During the periods of lockdown, the price of puppies or dogs rose substantially. This meant that there was more money to be made from breeding dogs, and some people resorted to stealing pets for this purpose.

But while that will have been distressing for anyone who lost a pet, there is literally no need to create a new offence or pass legislation: the offence of theft already applies to a situation where a pet is stolen. Theft carries a maximum sentence of 7 years; dog theft will only carry a maximum of 5.

Given the limitations of Parliamentary time, a cynic may wonder why Boris Johnson’s Government would push this issue. After all, the entire criminal justice system is on its knees with a backlog of trials and a shortage of funding, Covid infection rates are higher in the UK than in mainland Europe, and there is intense scrutiny into allegations of Tory sleaze…

So what better time to create a completely useless “new” offence to generate some positive-sounding headlines while achieving precisely nothing?

Given the supposed goals of the Kept Animals Bill (beyond creating a pointless offence of dog theft), it could have been hoped that DEFRA would have reconsidered other criminal offences relating to dogs. Unfortunately there will be no consideration of altering or updating the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, and so 30 years of breed specific legislation will continue without any amendment.

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