Figures reveal extent of rise in dog thefts after lockdown saw spike in demand for pets – with West Yorkshire second worst-hit area behind London

The number of dog thefts reported to police rose last year amidst a lockdown boom in pet sales, as data reveals two Yorkshire areas among those worst affected.

Data obtained by the PA news agency through the Freedom of Information Act shows that at least 1,791 offences of dogs being stolen were recorded by 31 of the 43 forces across England and Wales between April 2020 and March 2021.

That figure was an 11 per cent rise on the 1,612 reported in 2019-20.

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March this year saw the highest number of dog thefts, the figures suggest, with at least 193 offences reported to police.

The number of dog thefts reported to police rose last year amidst a lockdown boom in pet sales

However, the figures cover police reports only and do not provide details of how many dogs were stolen.

West Yorkshire Police revealed there were 138 such reports of dogs stolen in this time – a figure surpassed only by the Metropolitan force which recorded 493.

Meanwhile South Yorkshire Police, which was only able to provide 11 months' worth of data between April 2020 and February 2021, took 80 reports.

Humberside took 45 reports of dog thefts in this time, however no data is provided for North Yorkshire Police.

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Sales platforms have seen a “considerable rise” in puppy and kitten prices over the last year as more people look to buy or adopt during the pandemic, the Government said – with reports suggesting the increase in demand may have fuelled a rise in pet thefts.

Home Secretary Priti Patel vowed earlier this month to take action against the crime on a trip to North Yorkshire, with the launch of a Pet Theft Taskforce to investigate the recent rise.

“We are already taking action to combat such lawlessness by bolstering the police with 20,000 extra officers but this new taskforce will ensure we know how best to combat the driving forces behind this distressing crime and clamp down on the perpetrators," Ms Patel said.

Under current law in England, the theft of pets is treated in the same way as theft of property, although Prime Minister Boris Johnson is reportedly considering tougher sentencing for the crime, which could see dog thieves prosecuted under animal welfare laws instead.

The Stolen and Missing Pets Alliance, which has long campaigned for reform of laws around pet theft, said it is pleased the issue “is being taken seriously”.

CEO Debbie Matthews said: “Our pets are priceless, irreplaceable members of our families and the law should reflect this.

“Parliament must make the changes needed and make pet theft a specific offence in its own right, to give the courts access to appropriate custodial sentences to act as a deterrent, provide punishment and protect the public and their precious pets.”