Could it be an election year? Alison Hernandez off the leash

The Police and Crime Commissioner for Devon and Cornwall is urging people to report incidents of dog theft to police officers in order to help them better understand the scale of the problem in the region.

Police commissioner urges public to report dog thefts

Molly Dowrick www.devonlive.com 

Alison Hernandez, who has been the commissioner for Devon and Cornwall Police for almost five years, says she has heard “numerous” accounts of potential dog theft incidents in the region – but officers appear “sceptical” about the size of the problem.

Ms Hernandez has penned an extensive report on the need for “harsher penalties” for pet theft and is urging local people to complete a national survey on dog theft.

She says she wants to stamp out pet theft in the South West region and is calling for urgent reform to ensure pet theft is treated as seriously as it should be.

In her statement – which you can read in full on her campaigns website here – Ms Hernandez says pet theft is currently the worst it has ever been, with 80% of pets stolen never being returned to their owners.

Ms Hernandez said: “Pet theft is not treated with the seriousness it deserves and reform is urgently needed.

“During the pandemic, dog ownership and prices have risen significantly – pet theft is now the worst it has ever been, rising in some areas by 250%.

“Tragically, just one in five pets are ever returned to their owner. Only about 1% of pet thefts lead to charges.

“I know how much my family love our cat Mylo and would be devastated if he was stolen, along with many cat and dog owners.”

She continued: “Because punishments are often related to the monetary value of a pet, they usually result in trivial fines rather than imprisonment.

“Although the Theft Act of 1968 allows a maximum penalty of up to seven years, this never seems to happen. The majority of prison sentences awarded are less than six months. This Act is over 50 years old and may need amendment.

“Pet theft is Low Risk and High Reward, attracting organised crime.”

Ms Hernandez comments come after a Freedom of Information request from our crime reporter Carl Eve which disclosed that Devon and Cornwall Police logged 73 dog theft crimes in 2020, covering a total of 78 dogs.

Of these incidents, the most common place for a dog theft crime was a dwelling (36 incidents) and from a road (12 incidents), though other dogs were reportedly taken from farms and gardens as well as a dog taken from each of the following categories: a beach, a business, a shop, a stable.

Ms Hernandez’s comments come after people across the region have flooded neighbourhood groups on social media with reports of alleged dog thefts.

Last month, many Plymouth residents said they feared their homes had been marked as targets for potential dog-snatchers after spotting strange cable-ties affixed to lampposts allegedly outside homes with dogs.

But police soon confirmed that there was no evidence to suggest people putting up cable-ties had a sinister motive or that these the cable ties marked houses for dog thieves.

Tips to keep your dogs safe from theft

from the RSPCA:

  • Don’t leave your dog outside a shop on his own or in a car alone
  • Teach your dog a reliable recall for when you are out walking
  • Check your garden to make sure it is secure and if you have a gate then fit with a lock
  • Neuter your pet as this can reduce the likelihood of roaming
  • Make sure your pet is wearing a collar with an ID tag and that it is up to date: it is a legal requirement for a dog to have an ID tag with your name and address on it (The RSPCA also recommends including your mobile phone number on any ID tag as this can help reunite you with your pet quickly should he ever get lost or stolen)
  • Microchip your pet and keep the details up to date, so that if your pet does go missing or is stolen then there is a higher chance they can be reunited. It is a legal requirement to have your dog microchipped in England and Wales.

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