Long grass is not the best place place to exercise your dog as shown here in pictures of Scottish parliamentarians and others by Alan Simpson, the late David Kelso and Bill Heaney
By Lucy Ashton
How much is that doggy in the window? The words of that old song have come to be in regular use these days as people steal, smuggle and trade off pets for large sums of money.
Now it has been revealed that the overwhelming majority of responses to a consultation on proposed new dog theft laws are largely supportive of the move, which will create a new offence of dog abduction with stiffer penalties.
Scottish Conservative MSP Maurice Golden has today (Friday) published the findings from the 12-week consultation on his Proposed Dog Abduction (Scotland) Bill.
A total of 237 responses were received during the consultation, of which 92.4 per cent were “fully supportive” and a further 4.2 per cent were “partially supportive”, giving an approval rate of almost 97 per cent.
The bill will now be formally lodged later this month in the Scottish Parliament at which point Maurice Golden will seek to win cross-party support for the move and progress it to the next stage.
The consultation invited organisations and members of the public to submit their views on the plans to create a specific crime of dog abduction.
As it stands, the theft of a dog is considered alongside that of an inanimate object.
Critics say the punishment doesn’t take into account the emotional value of a dog, nor the devastating impact it has on owners.
The proposed bill would also seek to improve the recording of data, enabling authorities to understand the true scale of dog theft and identify crucial clues about where thieves operate and how.
Among the organisations supportive of the move are The Kennel Club, the Scottish SPCA, the Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, Dogs Trust, and Canine Concern Scotland.
The Law Society of Scotland said it was “not opposed to the creation of a new offence in principle” but felt more evidence was required.
Individual victims of dog theft also set out the impact of the crime in their statements.
The proposed bill would introduce a sentence of up to five years in jail for those convicted, a move backed by 86 per cent of respondents.
In addition, 89 per cent agreed that better data collection was a key reason for backing the law.
Some respondents said they would like to see other animals included in the legislation, a point Mr Golden is sympathetic to, but doesn’t believe would be achievable within the context of this particular proposed bill.
Scottish Conservative MSP Maurice Golden, pictured left, said: “The results of this consultation confirms the public’s appetite to tackle this appalling crime.
“The theft of a dog is among the most traumatic things that can happen to an owner, and as it stands the law simply doesn’t do them justice.
“The law also doesn’t do enough to deter thieves, to support police in tracking them down or to build a robust picture of the scale of the problem.
“My proposed bill aims to address all of that.
“The overwhelming support is hugely encouraging, both from the public and widely-respected animal welfare organisations.
“I also thank those who aren’t convinced and have concerns – we very much want their help in creating this legislation too.
“MSPs from all parties in Holyrood have expressed support for this, and I look forward to working on a cross-party basis to move this proposed bill to the next stage.
“It’s been long said dogs are people’s best friend – it’s time the law in Scotland gave them the status and protection they deserve.”
Mark Beazley, chief executive of The Kennel Club, said: “We warmly welcome the introduction of the Dog Abduction Bill to the Scottish Parliament and thank Maurice Golden for his campaign on the legislation, and all those in Scotland who have been committed to addressing this issue.
“The Kennel Club has long campaigned for sentencing around pet theft to recognise the emotional value of a dog and for better reporting and recording from officials so that underlying causes can be tackled.
“Our Paw and Order campaign, which launched during the pandemic, subsequently illustrated the need for reform and spurred thousands of dog lovers to share their views.
“Dogs are such an important and valued member of the family, and we wholeheartedly welcome this legislation, which we believe is integral for helping to safeguard the nation’s much-loved pets.”
Iona McGregor, a victim of dog theft, said: “Having had two of our own dogs stolen and dragged to an unknown fate, myself and my family know first-hand how utterly devastating it is to be the victim of dog theft.
“Knowing these criminals are going unpunished due to the justice system yet again letting people like ourselves down is just awful.
“If there was a firm punishment in place these sorts of crimes would be less likely to occur.
“That is why we strongly feel that this Dog Theft Bill should be passed.”
All responses to the consultation can be seen here along with the final results in full: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1PRtodktKZDMWr3uC1Ag2lVTVDptaZfUW
Iona McGregor’s cocker spaniels and a puppy which were abducted.
Below are some examples of the responses:
The Scottish SPCA
Dogs are seen as family members and losing a pet to theft is devastating for owners and for the pet. The Society sees the immense value in the human-animal bond and the benefits the relationship can have on both people and pets. When a dog has been stolen this does trigger a traumatic experience for owners with expectation of police support rarely met, resulting in victims physically searching themselves, moving from local searches to regional and national searches. The Scottish SPCA does not believe a price should be placed on an animal to determine the punishment for theft, or on the love between a person and their dog.
Dogs Trust is fully supportive of any action that will result in tougher sentences for those prosecuted for dog abduction. This is much needed, given that the Pet Theft Taskforce estimates around 2,000 dogs are stolen each year (but many more go unreported). Sadly, our previous research found only one in five of those dogs reported stolen are returned to their families, showing that much more needs to be done to improve justice for the owners of stolen pets. By equating animals to ‘property’, we are denying them the right to be considered sentient beings, nor reflecting the significant impact such a theft will have on an owner..
Canine Concern Scotland Trust
We think this is long overdue and dog abduction deserves to be taken very seriously. Dog sentience and welfare and also human emotions extend well beyond a crime of theft which, to date, has been classed along with inanimate objects. We commend the term ‘abduction’ as this implies an understanding of the adverse emotions that dogs and also their owners will go through if the crime is committed.