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It’s time to change the law on working gundog theft

Gundog theft MUST be taken seriously, says David Tomlinson

Springer spaniels

Dogs are vulnerable to theft even on shoot days

Dog thefts, especially those of working gundogs, are on the rise. One of the great mysteries about stolen gundogs is what happens to them as almost all disappear without trace.

What happens to stolen gundogs?

We have all heard suggestions that they are taken to be sold on as trained gundogs, but I’ve never come across anyone who has been offered one, let alone bought one. I’m sure that most of us would be extremely wary if offered an obviously well-trained, but mature retriever or spaniel. We would want to know who bred it, who trained it and why it was being sold.

Little serious investigation

One of the reasons we know so little about what happens to stolen gundogs is that the police are not really interested and little serious investigation has gone into these crimes. Under British law, dogs are simply classified as property, so the Theft Act 1968 regards a dog as having the same value as a non-living object, such as a laptop or mobile phone, and its theft equally unimportant. This hardly gives the police a serious incentive to investigate such crimes, while anyone found guilty of dog theft is rarely given anything more than a modest fine.

We all know that dogs are far more than mere property, but the law refuses to recognise this fact. I was one of more than 140,000 who signed an online petition to have pet theft debated by MPs, which they did in October. The debate, reported in Hansard, revealed that there is considerable support for a change in the law.

However, Victoria Prentice, the parliamentary under secretary of state for Defra, said that the Government doesn’t believe “that the creation of a specific offence for pet theft, with a two-year custodial penalty, would really help much”. Why not? Rather more encouraging was Tom Hunt’s summing-up: “This is an easy thing that the Government can do to show that they are on the side of the public. We have cross-party consensus, so let us have some action.” Mr Hunt is Conservative MP for Ipswich, first elected a year ago, and clearly understands the problem of stolen gundogs and is determined to do something about it. Let’s hope that he succeeds.