LONDON (Reuters) - The British government said on Friday it was planning to make pet abduction a criminal offence in England after a rise in the theft of animals, especially dogs, during the COVID-19 pandemic.
With pet ownership surging during coronavirus lockdowns as people spent more time at home, the price of some dog breeds soared by as much as 89% making stealing animals more attractive to criminals.
"Stealing a pet is an awful crime which can cause families great emotional distress whilst callous criminals line their pockets," said Home Secretary Priti Patel.
"The new offence of pet abduction acknowledges that animals are far more than just property and will give police an additional tool to bring these sickening individuals to justice."
The new offence is one of a number of recommendations from a report by the Pet Theft Taskforce which the government set up in May to examine the issue.
It found that seven in 10 thefts involved dogs, with evidence that there had been about 2,000 dog theft crimes reported to police last year.
A survey for the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association in March suggested that 2.1 million people had acquired a new pet during the COVID lockdown and 1.2 million planned to get one.
Stealing a pet is already a crime with offenders facing a maximum penalty of seven years in prison but the new offence would recognise the welfare of animals as sentient beings and acknowledge that pets were more than just their owners' property, the government said.
(Reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Alistair Bell)