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Pet thefts in Kent: Protection officer and dog theft laws must be strengthened, says Lib Dem PCC candidate

The county needs a dedicated 'dognapping detective', argue rival Police and Crime Commissioner candidates - but the current PCC insists such a role already exists.

Graham Colley, Lib Dem, has set up a petition calling for a Pet Protection Officer to be introduced after thefts rose by 33% since 2018 - but Matthew Scott (Con) says there is no need and that recruitment carried out on his watch means Kent Police is up to the task.

Graham Colley, Liberal Democrat PCC candidate
Graham Colley, Liberal Democrat PCC candidate

While Mr Scott said "Kent Police already has a dedicated officer for this issue" when asked for more details he did not respond and the force pointed to "various officers" taking responsibility.

Mr Colley said: “More than 50% of Kent residents are pet owners. I understand just how heart breaking it is to lose a pet and it must be even more so when that pet is stolen.

"Dognapping has increased because of the pandemic and a dedicated pet crime officer can co-ordinate, educate and fight pet-napping.

"The theft of a pet brings considerable heartache and stress as a member of the family disappears. Sometimes even resulting in depression, anxiety and PTSD.

"This petition calls for a dedicated police officer to be appointed for Kent as they have done in Nottinghamshire.

WATCH: Kent's reaction to the recent rise in dog thefts

"The officer would be responsible for investigating the involvement of organised crime in dog snatching as well as smuggling puppies from abroad.

"The role would also include taking a strategic overview of dog thefts and other pet mistreatment.

“A dedicated officer would not only be responsible for investigating dog theft but also should prevent them by advising dog owners on crime prevention measures such as micro-chipping, garden security and ensuring dogs are not left unattended.”

Mr Colley also believes the laws regarding pets being stolen should be changed to reflect the heartbreak caused by the crime - currently pet theft is treated as a property theft under the Theft Act 1968.

The penalty is usually a small fine or suspended sentence, with only 1% of dog theft crimes leading to prosecution, according to Pet Theft Reform.

“The rise in pet theft has been extraordinary, like nothing we have ever witnessed."

Between October 2019 and September 2020, 121 dogs were stolen in Kent, but not a single person was charged in connection with the thefts.

Over the last few months, one stolen pug was returned to its family in Lydd, six cockapoo pups were stolen from a property in Laddingford, six bulldogs were returned home after being stolen from Staplehurst and another French bulldog was stolen from a Rainham garden.

The Lib Dem candidate continued: “The rise in pet theft has been extraordinary, like nothing we have ever witnessed. As a low-risk high-profit crime, it is a very lucrative business and a change in law is crucial.

"Pet theft needs to be recognised as a crime in its own right, with the emotional impact on the victim being taken into consideration when sentencing is passed.

"Tougher consequences will be a much-needed deterrent. Currently thieves know that it is highly unlikely that they will even be prosecuted and if they are it will seldom carry a custodial sentence."

Matthew Scott Kent Police and Crime Commissioner
Matthew Scott Kent Police and Crime Commissioner

Matthew Scott, the current commissioner who is standing again for the Conservatives, said: “Pet theft can have a devastating impact on families and I have been liaising with Kent Police to make sure that they have the resources they need to address this.

“The dog unit, which has recently expanded, has been equipped with microchip readers to help identify lost and stolen pets.

"They work with the RSPCA and charities to assist with reuniting dogs with their owners.

"They also act as a conduit between the public and the investigating officer and assist when required.

“In addition, Kent Police already has a dedicated officer for this issue, working with other agencies and charities to ensure a joint response and solution to theft and illegal importations.

"Dog thefts are dealt with on a local level by officers across various teams at Kent Police..."

“I am confident that the extra police officers I have recruited are making an important contribution to addressing this issue locally.”

Mr Scott was asked for more information on the current role but has not responded.

When asked for more details of the current role Kent Police said "various officers" are responsible for looking in to pet theft.

Chief Inspector Mark McLellan, head of dog section at Kent Police, said: "Dog thefts are dealt with on a local level by officers across various teams at Kent Police, supported by the Dog Section, who can provide specialist advice when needed.

"We have recently seen a number of dogs returned to their rightful owners and will continuously assess the way in which we handle thefts of this nature in order to ensure we continue to offer a first class service."

Labour and Co-op candidate for Kent PCC, Lola Oweyusi
Labour and Co-op candidate for Kent PCC, Lola Oweyusi

Labour & Co-op PCC candidate, Lola Oweyusi, said: "I am committed to promoting the highest level of care for domestic and non-domestic animals.

"We have seen a rise in thefts of pets in Kent and that has significantly impacted the physical and mental wellbeing of owners.

"The Police and Crime Commissioner must be at the forefront of driving through the next phase of policy progress in the journey towards better animal welfare standards that are up-to-date and fit for purpose.

"This should include having dedicated officers appointed to be in charge of animal welfare which includes pet protection as well as working in partnership with local authorities and organisations like the RSPCA.

"Also ensuring that those caught in criminal activities against animals including theft of pets gets tougher sanctions and sentences for their criminal actions.

"Working closely with victims of pet thefts giving them the right support needed to ensure that their voice is heard."

The Kent Police and Crime Commissioner election is currently set to go ahead on May 6.

To read more stories about pets in Kent, click here.

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