Dog owners are more scared of walking their pets now than this time last year amid fears of dognappers, according to a survey.
It comes after a charity recorded a 170% increase in dog theft in one year.
But campaigners say the penalties for dog theft do not match the devastating impact it can have on families who have beloved pooches taken from them.
Holly Morgan, 26, from Nottingham, had her dog stolen in August 2019 and faced sleepless nights worrying whether he was OK.
She said: “Having my dog stolen was definitely the worst, stressful and most heart-breaking situation I have ever had to go though in my life.”
Fortunately with help from Facebook organisation Beauty’s Legacy she was eventually reunited with her beloved Cocker Spaniel Bud.
Bud was found just under 130 miles away from home after being missing for 18 days.
“Even more so now with lockdown. I won’t walk my dogs by myself anymore, even in daylight, as I’m so petrified that they will be stolen from me.”
Investigating the issue, Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne organised a survey to gauge public opinion.
The online survey received 124,729 responses with an large majority saying dog theft was a “serious problem” and that thieves should face stiffer sentences.
– 96.9% said that dog theft is a serious problem
– 22% know someone who has had a dog stolen over the last year
– 78.4% of people, to whom the question was applicable, said they had grown more fearful of taking their dog for a walk during the day
– 83% to whom the question was applicable, have grown more fearful of taking their dog for a walk at night.
Sussex PCC Ms Bourne said: “Police forces across the country need a ‘flag’ for reports of dog theft on their systems as currently it is extremely difficult to track this crime trend and put in place an appropriate police response.
“Pets are part of people’s family and the devastating emotional impact of this crime should no longer be overlooked.
“The Home Office have asked to discuss the findings and how we can develop measures that will protect people’s pets and boost public confidence. I will be exploring whether it is time to consider defining pet theft as a specific crime.”
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.
At present, dog theft is not defined as a specific crime, with dogs classed as “property” under the Theft Act 1968.
Policing Minister Kit Malthouse said: “Losing a much loved family pet can cause great distress and it’s a sad fact that criminals will seek to profit by this vile crime.
“We are taking action to cut crime by bolstering the police with 20,000 extra officers and our £20 million Safer Streets Fund will provide Police and Crime Commissioners with additional cash to spend on crimes such as theft.
“Pet theft is a criminal offence with a maximum penalty of seven years’ imprisonment and it must be confronted wherever it occurs.”