Devon and Cornwall's police and crime commissioner is calling for tougher sentences for pet thieves.

Alison Hernandez is calling for reform at a time when pet theft is at its highest ever rate.

She said: "Pet theft is not treated with the seriousness it deserves and reform is urgently needed.

"During the pandemic, dog ownership and prices have risen significantly - pet theft is now the worst it has ever been, rising in some areas by 250%.

"Tragically, just one in five pets are ever returned to their owner.

"Only about one per cent of pet thefts lead to charges."

Because punishments are often related to the monetary value of a pet, they usually result in trivial fines rather than imprisonment.

Alison said: "Although the Theft Act of 1968 allows a maximum penalty of up to seven years, this never seems to happen.

"The majority of prison sentences awarded are less than six months.

"This act is over 50 years old and may need amendment."

The Government has already increased sentences for people who mistreat animals, and tackled puppy farming.

It has also recognised Finn’s Law, which ensures that police dogs are now viewed as the living, breathing, sentient beings they are, leading to more severe punishment for their attackers.

Three recent national petitions have been run before on pet theft, and debate twice conducted in Parliament, so it is clear the public are keen to see urgent action.

What Alison thinks is needed now is an action plan and she suggests:

  • better data from police forces that specifically records pet theft going forwards, rather than just ‘property’ theft, so that we can establish the true scale of the problem. This will take time to implement, so we will also conduct a public survey to identify how much pet theft has already taken place.
  • more police resources should be deployed to catch the organised gangs targeting our pets, and the 20,000 national uplift in police officers and some of which are going to the Regional Organised Crime Units should empower Chief Constables.
  • this crime should be considered as a priority within our Regional Organised Crime Units.
  • we need to improve public awareness of how to reduce their pet’s vulnerability to criminals.
  • working with our local MPs, we will seek a change in sentencing guidelines to ensure our judicial system recognises the emotional and social value of our pets, so that tougher sentences can be applied in our courts. If that approach does not produce tougher sentences for pet theft, it may then be necessary to change the law.