Helen Martin: Back this new Bill to crackdown on pet thieves

Stealing a pet is like kidnapping a member of the family (Picture: John Devlin)
Stealing a pet is like kidnapping a member of the family (Picture: John Devlin)
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NOW and then, along comes a politician proposing a great legal amendment that wins my heart and doesn’t even have the potential to anger opposition parties.

Enter honourable member Ross Thomson, Conservative MP for Aberdeen South who has called for changes to the law to make pet theft a serious, criminal and punishable offence, recognising the status and importance of animals who are part of a family.

The devastating effect on owners’ lives is monumental compared to the impact of someone pinching their phone or their car. Yet, according to the law in England and Wales, it’s only the financial value of the animal that counts. In Scotland, pet theft isn’t even formally recognised as an offence with defined sentencing, so courts have only precedent to help them work out the penalty.

This is certainly the right time to review punishment for what really is a cruel and hideous crime. Most responsible owners have their pets micro-chipped so there’s now rarely any doubt as to whom the animal belongs.

But there are complications with a pet theft bill, not least how it (and the public) would deal with different species.

Most dogs are on a lead, within sight of their owners, or in a confined garden. Leaving a dog outside a shop for a few minutes or in an unlocked car is irresponsible. Yet the rate of dog theft in the UK as a whole is around 60 a week.

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That’s a lot but it doesn’t compare to the 360,000 cats which owners believe have been stolen each year! Some cats stray of course – they are “free-wheelers”­ – but of the eight I’ve had in my life, only one wandered off and returned a year later.

Apart from a few exceptions, most UK police forces don’t even record a missing cat as stolen. Yet they too can be taken because they are a valuable breed, or even worse to be used as prey for training fighting dogs.

There are owners who love their dogs but don’t rate cats. Recently I was speaking to a woman whose dog killed a cat which, while fighting for its life, caused her pet some injuries. She tossed the dead cat in a bin and took her dog to the vet!

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That reminded me of the case in 2010 when a woman in Coventry was caught on CCTV throwing a pet cat in a wheelie bin. Fortunately, the owner found it later while it was still alive. And how would any new legislation apply to, for example, rabbits stolen from their garden hutch at night?

Any animal can be taken by violent “psychopaths” to be tortured for fun. Bad enough if they are wild animals but the obvious distinction with pets – of any species – is that loss by theft for re-sale, breeding or anything else leaves owners and whole families grieving, broken-hearted and sometimes permanently broken down or even split by stress or blame.

The agony of trying to find the beloved character for months, living through the nightmare question of what’s happened to it, may be well beyond the understanding of people who don’t like animals.

As Ross Thomson says: “This is an excellent opportunity for Holyrood and Westminster to work together for positive change. I hope that happens.”

Scotland is just too darn sunny

ISN’T the weather wonderful? Mmmm, it was to start with. Eyes closed in the back garden imagining it’s the Costa Del Sol, firing up the barbie, washing dry in an hour or two, all great.

But with windows open for a bit of air, the house is full of flies. The grass is turning yellow and the plants need watering twice a day. Chilled wine and beer sales must be soaring. Not a good summer for exterior painting – the sun’s too hot. One of our door locks is jamming in the heat. Housework is off the agenda at 30 degrees – so are long walks. The dog struggles to cope. The cat wants to go out at night because it’s cooler.

If this becomes standard with climate change, we’ll probably adjust. Right now, a rain dance isn’t out of the question.

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