There has been a surge of offences during lockdown, including the theft of guide dogs. The 170 percent increase is believed to have been fuelled by the soaring value of the animals as more people sought pets during the restrictions. Support for the petition, whose backers include former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith, comes as the UK’s first police chief to specialise in dog thefts was announced. Chief Inspector Amy Styles-Jones was confirmed by Nottinghamshire Police as its lead on dog theft, after a survey with nearly 18,000 responses found that 79 per cent of people have become scared of walking their dogs during the day.
The police officer, who has three Chihuahuas herself, said she understands the devastation of a pet being taken, as to most owners they are part of the family.
She explained: “I will be in a strategic role looking for patterns and working with other forces.
“We are aware from social media that there is a lot of fear among owners.”
Intelligence suggests that thieves are a mixture of opportunists and organised networks. Ms Styles-Jones will also work with dog charities to try to prevent thefts and reunite owners with stolen pets.
Yesterday the petition had attracted more than 270,000 signatures.
It calls for a specific offence of dog theft, with a minimum eight years in prison and a fine of at least £5,000. It is set to be debated in Parliament after topping 100,000 signatures.
Sir Iain said: “Pet theft is wrongly categorised as robbery or burglary – the same category as the theft of an object. Sadly, this leads only to minimal sentences.
“A specific offence for pet theft is needed to deter criminals and to punish those guilty of the theft.”
Emma Foody, Nottinghamshire Police and Crime Commissioner, who appointed Ms Styles-Jones, said it was obvious that something needed to be done.
Ms Foody, who has two border collies, said: “Our survey showed this was clearly on people’s minds and they wanted something proactive done. We are also working with the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association after incidents of guide dogs being stolen.
“Fifty percent of thefts are from people’s gardens. But whole litters have also been stolen from breeders, so people need to be careful about what they put on adverts about where they are.”
A Government holding response to the petition, before it is debated, said: “While the Government takes the issue of dog theft very seriously and is concerned by suggestions that occurrences are on the rise, we consider the legislative tools we have in place to deal with cases of dog theft to be robust and proportionate.”