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Government backs new pet abduction law in pet theft crackdown

In September (2021) the Home Office published the ‘Pet Theft Taskforce Policy Paper’. The report made a number or recommendations designed to tackle the theft of dogs, including the development of legislative options for a new ’pet abduction’ offence (to acknowledge the welfare of sentient animals). The Pet Abduction Bill has recently passed the second reading in the House of Commons (having previously been dropped in May 2023) and last week passed the Committee stage. It will now move through to report stage and then the third reading.

What you might not know is that the evidence base underpinning the report was developed by our own Dr Helen Selby-Fell, Senior Lecturer in the Department for Policing (FBL) together with Dr Daniel Allen (from Keele University).

In late 2020, the topic of 'dog theft' was being widely reported in the media during the Covid-19 lockdown. At that time, the researchers conducted qualitative research with victims of dog theft (and community and charity resolution groups) to explore ‘victim impact’ (Allen,, 2022). They argued that, whilst their research into the extent of dog theft suggested that it was a relatively ‘low volume’ offence ‘type’, it should be regarded as a ‘high harm’ crime in terms of victim impact. Their analysis strongly suggested that victims experience significant negative emotional reactions, reflecting what many victims report is a traumatic experience.

In addition, Dr Selby-Fell & Dr Allen triangulated different data sources (including police data) to explore the extent and nature of dog theft in England & Wales (Selby- Fell & Allen, 2021). This provided a clearer insight into the extent of the problem, and it also highlighted the limitations and caveats associated with various sources of ‘dog theft’ data. The researchers argued that for police forces (and other organisations) to take an evidence-based approach to tackling the theft of dogs, they must first have a clear understanding of the extent and nature of the problem. Dr Selby-Fell argued that the fact that dog theft is not a ‘crime type’ (under the Home Office Counting Rules) had hindered the ability of forces to do.

The researchers worked with a number of police forces, animal charities and other organisations throughout the duration of the research, including OPAL (the National Intelligence Unit for Serious Organised Acquisitive Crime).

Their early research findings were used to inform OPAL’s ‘National Dog Theft Summary’ (circulated to all forces in England & Wales in March 2021). During the Spring (2021), Dr Selby-Fell and Dr Allen attended meetings with the Home Office, DEFRA and the Ministry of Justice to discuss their research. In April (2021) the government set up a ‘Pet Theft Taskforce’ to gather evidence to understand the problem, and to recommend measures to tackle it. Dr Selby-Fell and Dr Allen were invited to present evidence to the Taskforce where they outlined their research findings and offered recommendations, including the need to introduce a specific ‘crime type’ for dog theft (previously argued by the Pet Theft Reform campaign led by Dr Allen).

Dr Selby-Fell and Dr Allen are pleased to see the recent progress of their research and are eagerly awaiting the outcome of the final stages of the Bill.


Allen, D., Arathoon, J. & Selby-Fell, H. (2022). Experiences of dog theft and spatial practices of searching. The Geographical Journal. DOI:

Selby-Fell, H. and Allen, D. (2021) Dog Theft: What can we infer from the evidence so far? 24th February 2021. Available at:

Home Office (2021). Pet Theft Taskforce: Policy Paper.

Selby-Fell, H. and Allen, D. (2021). The Nature & Extent of Dog Theft in England & Wales. Presented at the inaugural Pet Theft Taskforce meeting. Pet Theft Taskforce - Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), Home Office and Ministry of Justice with operational partners. 12th May 2021, London.

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