Campaigners have called for increased collaboration with the veterinary sector in a renewed attempt to make pet abduction a specific criminal offence.
More than 16,000 people have already signed a new online petition, after measures intended to tackle the problem were dropped with the demise of the Kept Animals Bill last month.
Support and expertise critical
Leaders of the Pet Theft Reform campaign say they have been assured the Government still intends to legislate on the issue, which they estimate affects thousands of pet owners a year. But its co-founder, Daniel Allen, said veterinary support and expertise were critical to that as he urged practices, companies and sector bodies to get involved.
Dr Allen said: “We want to find ways to get the veterinary profession on board and those beyond that to really make sure that the Government knows this is something we all feel is very important. It’s something that will actually help people and pets.”
Established five years ago, in conjunction with the Stolen and Missing Pets Alliance (SAMPA), Pet Theft Reform seeks to change the legal perception that views pets as property. Four previous petitions on the issue attracted nearly 700,000 signatures between them and the group estimates that up to 3,000 dogs are taken from their owners every year.
Dr Allen, an animal geographer and programme director at Keele University, said he believed the idea that pets should be viewed as family members, rather than property, would be overwhelmingly supported by the veterinary profession and the law needed to catch up with that sentiment. He said: “They (affected owners) need to see there’s access to justice. At this point, there’s not.”
Since the Kept Animals Bill was finally dropped in early June, Defra has repeatedly insisted that it will bring forward measures that were included within it individually before the next general election.
Several MPs, including the former Conservative leader and cabinet minister Sir Iain Duncan Smith, have also pledged their support. Dr Allen said: “We’ve been assured that they are committed. That includes the pet abduction offence. We have to keep being positive. We have to keep working with the Government. We have to keep working with MPs.
“At some point this will become law. It’s down to the politicians and politics who wants to take the credit for it.”
One area where veterinary input is felt to be particularly crucial is in improving access to the information stored on pet microchips. It is already compulsory for dogs aged eight weeks or over to be microchipped and similar rules relating to owned cats aged 20 weeks or above are due to come into force in England next year.
But, despite the efforts of the related Fern’s Law campaign, which seeks to make it compulsory for chips to be scanned on first presentation at a veterinary practice and during annual check-ups, there is currently no legal requirement for vets to do so.
The issue is further complicated by the existence of 22 separate microchip databases which meet required government standards and which Dr Allen argues can make accessing information a matter of “pot luck”.
He added: “Making the microchipping system more effective is something where the veterinary profession have massive say, massive influence, massive experience. We’ve heard that cat microchipping is becoming compulsory. That’s great but the problem is that’s just adding millions more cats into an ineffective system.
“There needs to be a centralised access point, a centralised database, whereby they’re all interconnected and authorities such as the veterinary professionals can access it to find out what the microchip number is and who the keeper is.”
Chip details access
Earlier this year, at the time the new cat microchip rules were announced, the BVA called for action to make it easier for veterinary professional to access chip information.
Industry leaders have said work is ongoing to address the problem, although Dr Allen indicated he did not expect a solution to be in place before the extended requirement comes into force.
Credit to: Vet sector urged to get behind new pet abduction law appeal (Vet Times)
Vet Times. (2023). Vet sector urged to get behind new pet abduction law appeal [online]
Available at: https://www.vettimes.co.uk/news/vet-sector-urged-to-get-behind-new-pet-abduction-law-appeal/