Derbyshire Police and Crime Commissioner Hardyal Dhindsa has unveiled a new survey to understand the risk and impact of dog theft across the county.
The PCC has joined forces with Nottinghamshire’s Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner Emma Foody who has launched the survey in response to a series of high profile dog thefts elsewhere in the country.
Many areas have reported spikes in incidents during the pandemic, with the prices of some breeds soaring through demand and puppies in particular at risk.
The survey will help Mr Dhindsa assess support for harsher sanctions against those who steal dogs and determine how many pet owners are worried or have been directly affected by dog theft.
It asks dog owners whether they have been personally impacted by dog theft and whether they have become more fearful of walking their pet at night. It also gauges support for longer sentences for thieves.
Mr Dhindsa said: “Losing a pet in this dreadful way is absolutely devastating and for this reason the law and the courts should react accordingly. For many, dogs are not just pets but cherished companions. I am determined to help everyone to come down hard on these criminals.
“The frequency of incidents, particularly during the health crisis, is a cause for concern and unless robust action is taken to make thieves think twice about committing these crimes, then more and more families will face this terrible ordeal.
“Stealing a pet inflicts enormous and unnecessary suffering to families – and very often the animal concerned – and it makes sense to reflect these aggravating factors in the way we punish offenders. Only with a very real threat of imprisonment will criminals heed the warnings.”
A force spokesperson added: “Whilst the reporting, and coverage, of dog thefts in the UK has increased in recent times, dog thefts within Derbyshire thankfully remain very low. However, we recognise that for dog owners, the theft of a dog is akin to losing a family member, and this crime is particularly upsetting.”
Mrs Foody, whose two dogs Boomer and Corona are currently reigning champions of the ‘Westminster Dog of the Year’ contest, added: “As a nation of dog lovers, this issue cuts across the political and judicial divide. There is growing justification for pet theft to become a more serious offence and quite simply, unless we make dogs too hot to handle and the penalty too high to risk, many more dog owners will face the pain and trauma of losing their beloved pets.”
Theft carries a maximum sentence of seven years’ imprisonment but in reality few offenders receive the penalty available.
Dog charities nationally have reported unregistered litters discarded on roadsides and puppies used as bait for fighting.
DogLost has seen reports of thefts rise by 170% in the past year from 172 dogs in 2019 to 465 in 2020 and the National Police Chiefs’ Council has warned criminals are taking advantage in the huge rise in demand for dogs during lockdown.