England and Wales
In the eyes of the law, pets are classified as chattel in the same way as mobile phones and jewellery – and sentencing is therefore dependent on their financial value, rather than taking into account the emotion impact of their loss. Given that most pets have a relatively low monetary value, sentences tend to be much lower than the maximum seven years’ imprisonment which is available.
Theft under the Theft Act 1968 is currently split into four differing categories, which range from category four (goods stolen are valued below £500 and have little or no significant harm to the victim or others) to category one (the value of goods stolen exceeds £100,000 or goods are high value with significant additional harm to the victim or others). Courts must follow these guidelines, issued by the Sentencing Council, during sentencing.
Theft carries a maximum punishment of up to ten years imprisonment, though sentencing typically ranges between a Community Order to six months imprisonment. Independent judges decide individual sentences and will consider aggravating factors in each case, including the impact on victims and the value of the item stolen.
Similar to England and Wales, pet theft is not its own distinct category of theft and pets are classed as chattel when stolen.
The Scottish Government passed legislation in 2019 to increase the use of more effective methods of addressing offending and rehabilitation, with the goal of decreasing the use of short – i.e. 12 months or less – prison sentences. Sentencing measures include the use of community payback orders for low level offences.
The Scottish Sentencing Council, the body that issues sentencing guidelines in Scotland, is monitoring and reviewing the impact of this legislation and intends to issue amended sentencing guidelines soon.
What can you do to protect your pet?
As well as this, you should always ensure that your property and garden is fully secured and never leave your pet unsupervised in the garden, when out for a walk or in public places.
If you spot any suspicious activity, make sure that you report it to the police to help keep both your pets and your neighbours’ pets safe from criminals.