The current penalties for dog thieves don't reflect the fact that losing a dog can be as upsetting as losing a member of your family

Matching the penalty to the crime isn’t something we are very good at in this country. There have long been calls for increased penalties for dog thieves, as the current law is woefully inadequate. Your dog is regarded in law as just a “chattel” and its theft is treated in exactly the same way as if you reported your bicycle or mobile phone stolen. It is not something that the police have to take too seriously.

Last year there were 12,000 reported dog thefts, leading to 98 arrests, 40 prosecutions and a mere 12 convictions. The latter rarely amount to more than a gentle wrap over the knuckles, for most convicted dog thieves receive a caution, a fine or community service — hardly likely to deter the would-be felon.

Statistics from Pet Theft Awareness (PTA) show that Labradors and spaniels are the second and third most popular breeds with dog thieves. (The most popular is the Staffordshire bull terrier.) PTA also gives figures for the places dogs are most likely to be stolen from. Gardens make up 52 per cent, with break-ins to homes accounting for another 19 per cent, and 16 per cent when the dog is being walked. Some seven per cent are taken when tied up outside shops, but I doubt if many gundogs come into this category.

Whether increased penalties would really help discourage dog thieves is debatable, but for those who have had dogs stolen, it would be satisfying to know that the thief, if caught, does receive suitable punishment. For most of us, a dog is far more than just a possession. If it’s a working gundog, then it’s almost certainly an animal in which you have invested hours of your time in training, while for many of us it’s a much- loved companion, too. Losing a dog can be as upsetting as losing a member of your family.

It’s not a subject that seems to concern many politicians, though your chances of having your dogs stolen are thousands of times higher than being involved in an act of terrorism, something that they do get worried about. It’s up to us to remind politicians that this subject should be taken much more seriously. We do at least have the support of the chairman of the Associate Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare, Neil Parish MP, who believes that dog thieves should face five years in jail. Why not?