Dog owners in Scotland must help us get news laws to fight devastating pet theft

Dogs are such an important and valued member of the family, and anyone who has one in their life will attest to how strong their emotional bond is.

As such, having a dog go missing, or even stolen, is a heartbreaking and incredibly stressful experience for the owners and families affected, even more so for the most vulnerable members of society and those who depend on their pets for emotional or physical assistance.

However, despite the serious emotional impact, the abduction of a dog is often treated no more seriously than the theft of a household commodity such as a mobile phone or a laptop, due to the unnecessary weighting on the monetary value rather than the emotional implications of the crime.

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In Scotland, the abduction of a dog comes under the common law offence of theft, which can be defined in broad terms as theft when a person has taken and kept property without the consent of the rightful owner. In addition, it must be clear the person who took the property did so with the intention of depriving the person who is the rightful owner.

In 2021, the UK Government announced plans to introduce a specific criminal offence for those who steal dogs, which would be implemented across England and Wales. This followed recommendations from the Government’s Pet Theft Taskforce with proposals to create a new ‘pet abduction’ offence to better reflect the severity of the crime and recognise the welfare concerns; collect more reliable data on the crime to build a stronger evidence base on the issue; work with microchip databases to identify and track stolen dogs; and tackle the fear of the crime, raising awareness about measure owners can take to keep their pets safe.

This announcement marked a significant step forward in dog welfare, but sadly leaves Scotland behind without specific offences to tackle dog abduction that would view the crime as an animal welfare issue rather than property theft.

As such, Maurice Golden, MSP for North East Scotland, has launched a consultation to create a new statutory offence to tackle the problem of dog theft and other situations where a dog is taken or kept without lawful authority. The feelings of dogs and dog welfare would be considered as part of the offence.

The Kennel Club wholeheartedly supports this consultation, and hope many dog owners will respond to ensure their views are represented. We have long campaigned on the issue of pet theft, lobbying for sentencing to recognise the emotional value of a dog and for better reporting and recording from officials so that underlying causes of dog theft can be tackled.

Scotland is falling behind England and Wales in getting laws to protect our dogs against pet theft, writes Dr Ed Hayes of The Kennel Club.

We also launched our Paw and Order campaign during the pandemic, which further illustrated the need for reform. Freedom of Information requests to every police force in the UK revealed that, shockingly, only 6% of pet theft cases between 2015 and 2020 resulted in action being taken against a suspect.

We were pleased to see the UK Government announce the move towards introducing a specific criminal offence in England and Wales. However, we want to see these protections extended to dogs nationwide and implore dog owners in Scotland to respond to this consultation and make their voices heard.

Dr Ed Hayes is Head of Public Affairs at The Kennel Club