The UK government launched a “Pet Theft Taskforce” on Saturday to investigate the recent reported rise in pet theft since the start of the COVID-19 lockdowns.
The taskforce, to consist of officials from the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra), the Home Office, and the Ministry of Justice as well as the police, will “gather evidence to understand the factors that may be contributing to any perceived rise in thefts and to recommend any necessary measures to tackle the problem,” the government said.
Environment Secretary George Eustice called the increase in pet theft “worrying trends” and said he hoped the taskforce would help “catch those involved with this terrible crime.”
“Although the data is difficult to get a handle on, most of the estimates we have and reports suggest that pet theft may have doubled in the last 12 months—some people put it even higher than that,” he told BBC Breakfast.
“Demand for pets has risen. In some ways that is understandable—people have been spending more time at home, often sometimes suffering from loneliness, and so they have sought to get a pet,” said Eustice.
“But what has been worrying is that there do appear to be a rise of, sometimes organised, gangs stealing pets in order to sell them.”
He said the new taskforce will “get to grips with the data so we can understand the scale of the problem” and “see if we can improve coordination and intelligence sharing between police forces.”
“There have been some successful raids and operations in places like Hertfordshire and Essex, and we want to learn from those successes to ensure we can catch those involved with this terrible crime that causes huge trauma for people.”
According to Dogs Trust, the price for some of the most sought after breeds rose as much as 89 percent during the first lockdown.
Recent reports have suggested that this may be leading to a rise in pet thefts. In March, DogLost, a UK charity that helps victims of dog theft, recorded a 170 percent increase in the crime, from 172 dogs reported stolen in 2019 to 465 in 2020.
PA contributed to this report.