Dog owners should be required to hold identity documents for their pets in a bid to combat theft, a police and crime commissioner has said.
Martin Surl, who is PCC for Gloucestershire, said the problem of dogs being stolen goes “far beyond the police” and needs tackling at an international level.
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.
Police chiefs warned that organised criminals have turned to dog theft as a rise in demand for puppies during lockdown meant increased profits from the illicit trade.
During a media briefing held by the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, Mr Surl said: “We’ve got to go far deeper than where we are at the moment. Pet passports, identity documents.
“On a car you know who it’s bought from, it’s got certain standards, it’s got an MOT, if you sell it you have to put a document in.
“For a dog, something you absolutely love, you haven’t got to do anything like that. All you have to do is a chip which nobody really checks anyway.
“It’s not hard to do, a simple piece of legislation. When you find a dog, the person has to prove it’s theirs, not the other way around.”
Last month, Home Secretary Priti Patel pledged to “go after” pet thieves, while one police force, Nottinghamshire, appointed a specialist officer to focus on the crime.
Mr Surl said it is “ridiculous” to assume dog theft is only a policing issue, and that international co-operation is needed.
“Just going for the policing angle is ridiculous, you have to go far deeper than that,” he said.
“This is a problem that needs all the other agencies – the RSPCA, trading standards, the border guard, the Gardai over in Ireland, and even in Europe as well.”
At present, dog theft is not defined as a specific crime, with dogs classed as “property” under the Theft Act 1968, meaning the number of offences recorded may appear lower than in reality.
Katy Bourne, who is PCC for Sussex, said she is meeting with Home Office officials on Wednesday to discuss dog thefts and is pushing forces to record the crimes more effectively.
She said: “If you take a dog out of someone’s back garden and you bung it in your car and it’s all caught on CCTV that would be recorded as theft.
“If you steal a dog from somebody they’re walking it on the lead that would be recorded in the high street as a robbery. None of it is specific to a dog.”
Currently Sussex police flag cases as involving a dog, but this depends on individual officers remembering to do so.
“It’s very inconsistent up and down the country,” she added.
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