Lothian MSP Sue Webber backs new law on dog theft and abduction

Bill would treat dogs less as property and more as sentient beings
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Dog-loving Lothian MSP Sue Webber is backing a new plan to make dog stealing a specific crime.

Police Scotland estimate there were around 190 dog thefts in 2020 alone, driven by increased demand during the Covid lockdown, with the prices of some breeds increasing 90 per cent in the first wave. According to the charity Doglost, which monitors abductions, there was a 170 per cent increase in dog thefts across the UK during the pandemic.

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Ms Webber, proud owner of a Hungarian Vizsla called Alfie, is supporting a new law proposed by fellow Tory MSP Maurice Golden which could mean tougher penalties for dog theft. The proposed Dog Abduction (Scotland) Bill is supported by major animal welfare charities, including the Edinburgh Dog and Cat Home, The Kennel Club and Dogs Trust.

Mr Golden has launched a consultation on the Bill which will run until January, and Ms Webber is urging people to give their views ahead of its progress through the Scottish Parliament. “The law currently views a dog as the same as any household commodity like a fridge or a television, not much-loved members of families,” said Ms Webber.

“Dog thefts are hugely traumatic, both for families and the pet itself. This horrible crime should be properly recognised with stronger punishments, and this proposed legislation will ensure it does. Many people in the Lothians got a family dog during lockdown and I know how much joy they have brought to so many people, but the downside has been an increase in thefts and too many criminals are getting away with it.”

It is estimated that just under half of stolen dogs are eventually reunited with their rightful owners, but according to Kennel Club research only two per cent of dog abductions result in criminal charges. Ms Webber said: “The more Lothian people who respond – not just dog owners – the better chance this legislation will have of becoming law.”

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Mr Golden argues that for many people their dog is the most important part of their life, but despite the fact they were animals with real feelings the current law means the theft of a dog can be treated in the same way as the theft of “some inanimate household object”. He says sentences are seldom proportionate to the impact of the offence.

Alfie the Hungarian Vizsla with owner, Lothian MSP Sue Webber.Alfie the Hungarian Vizsla with owner, Lothian MSP Sue Webber.
Alfie the Hungarian Vizsla with owner, Lothian MSP Sue Webber.

His Bill would create a new statutory offence which shifted the focus from financial loss and the monetary value of a stolen dog to welfare concerns, the harm caused to the animal and by extension the owner. The law would treat dogs not just as property, but as sentient beings. The new offence would carry a maximum sentence of five years imprisonment, in line with other animal welfare crimes.

Mr Golden says the UK Government has already drawn up plans to legislate for a new specific offence to address pet theft and if action is not taken here Scotland risks becoming a more attractive destination for criminals from the rest of the UK.