Ministers are working on a cross-government approach to tackling the “vile crime” of pet theft.
Home Secretary Priti Patel has held talks with Cabinet colleagues to discuss how to address the issue, with officials acknowledging the “great distress” caused by the loss of a family pet.
But she faced accusations of not taking the problem seriously enough, two months after vowing to “go after” those responsible for the theft of dogs and other animals.
Ms Patel has discussed the issue with Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland and Environment Secretary George Eustice.
Officials and junior ministers have also carried out work on the issue, with next steps due to be announced “in due course”.
Stealing a pet is already an offence under the Theft Act, with a maximum jail term of seven years, and Sentencing Council guidelines mean that emotional distress is taken into consideration when punishments are decided.
But ministers have been under pressure to introduce a new specific offence of stealing much-loved pet dogs.
A Government spokesman said: “Last month, the Home Secretary, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs met to discuss a cross-government approach to combating this issue and we will announce next steps in due course.
“This builds upon the huge amounts of work already undertaken by junior ministers and officials.
“Losing a much-loved family pet can cause great distress and it’s a sad fact that criminals will seek to profit by this vile crime.”
But Liberal Democrat environment spokesman Tim Farron questioned the Government’s commitment after a Freedom of Information (FOI) Act request revealed that the Home Office had no information on meetings about the issue involving Ms Patel from October 2020 to mid-March.
He said: “It’s very concerning that the Home Secretary might not be treating this growing problem with the seriousness that it deserves.
“Dog theft should be a specific crime, and treated with much more gravity, given that our pets are part of our families.
“I’d want the Home Secretary to show that she understands that and to give us some hope that she will take the action that dog owners are demanding.”
In February, Ms Patel stopped short of committing to tougher new laws but said the Home Office is “definitely looking into what kind of measures can be put in place in terms of the criminality” and “what we might be able to do in laws to absolutely go after these individuals that are stealing pets and making money out of this”.
She said: “This is absolutely shocking, it’s a shocking crime that is taking place”, adding that she understands that in London “it’s very prevalent right now”.
She told LBC Radio: “I’m looking at this, I am absolutely looking at what we can do.”