Dog and cat theft to be made specific offences in Northern Ireland

Dog and cat theft to be made specific offences in Northern Ireland

Stealing a dog or a cat is to become a specific criminal offence in Northern Ireland under plans backed by the UK government.

The Pet Abduction Bill, a private member’s bill introduced at Westminster by Southend West MP Anna Firth and now formally backed by government ministers, proposes to create a number of new offences in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Speaking to MPs on Friday, Ms Firth acknowledged that the theft of a cat or a dog “is already a crime”, but added that dogs and cats “are sentient beings… [which] needs to be properly reflected in our criminal law”.

Under the draft bill, those found guilty of the two new offences of dog abduction and cat abduction face up to 12 months’ imprisonment on summary conviction in Northern Ireland, or up to five years’ imprisonment on conviction on indictment.

Another provision allows the provisions to be extended beyond dogs and cats to other common pets through secondary legislation.

It is somewhat unusual that the bill covers Northern Ireland, as animal welfare is devolved and most recent animal welfare legislation debated in Westminster has not extended to Northern Ireland.

Steve Barclay, the UK’s environment secretary, said: “As a dog owner myself, I appreciate deeply what treasured members of the family dogs and cats are. It is a deeply traumatic experience for both the owner and the pet when they are stolen.

“This vital bill will recognise the severity of this shocking crime and should act as a deterrent to anyone considering stealing a dog or cat. We will do all we can to support its swift passage through Parliament.”

Ms Firth added: “I am absolutely delighted that the Pet Abduction Bill has passed its second reading, and will move on to committee stage. As a nation of pet-lovers, it is vital that the law recognises the emotional impact that the abduction of a pet can have, and brings the perpetrators to justice that correctly reflects this.

“Pets are not merely property like a smartphone or watch — they are part of the family. It is not right that the law does not distinguish this and I am delighted that my bill will redress this wrong.”

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