Pet Theft

Pet theft can often cause a great deal of distress for the owner and their immediate family. The emotional stress of losing a much loved pet far outweighs any financial loss.

However, in law a pet is treated as property with no specific offence or sentence to reflect the distress that is caused. If caught a perpetrator is charged under section 1 of the Theft Act, just as they would be for any other property theft. Some, like myself, feel that the law is weak in this area and that tougher legislation is required to protect family pets and to increase the punishment for those involved in their theft. Unfortunately the government does not agree with this and feels that the law as it stands is sufficient. It is true that a court will take into account any emotional harm caused to the owner when sentencing but this is often not enough to satisfy the victim seeking justice nor deter future offenders. If a ransom is demanded for the return of the pet a more serious offence may be committed. The charge can then change from theft to blackmail. Blackmail attracts a tougher sentence for the perpetrator, 14 years maximum compared to 7 years for theft. This has become known as dog napping, a term created by the media but having no definition in law. Additionally, if a pet has been mistreated whilst in the care of the offender, a further charge can be brought under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. This currently carries a maximum penalty of 6 months imprisonment and/or a £20,000 fine.

Without any specific offence for dog theft it is difficult to establish, with any degree of certainty, the number of thefts that have taken place over a given period. If reported and recorded as a crime by the Police it could be classified as Other Theft, Vehicle Crime, Theft from a person, Robbery, Burglary or Other Crime (blackmail) depending on the individual circumstances. It is worth mentioning that the criteria for an incident to be recorded as a crime is set by the Home Office. It basically states; An incident will be recorded as a crime, if on the balance of probability, the circumstances as reported amount to a crime and there is no credible evidence to the contrary. This is a point which is often overlooked and media reports can imply that the police are not interested in dog theft, this is not true. The police are not the organisation to contact if a dog has gone astray but if you are feel a crime has been committed it is important that the reasons for your suspicions are explained when first reporting the incident, so it can be recorded correctly.

In 2012 it was estimated that there were 3,500 dog thefts nationally, this would equate to something less than 0.1% of all recorded crime. If this figure holds true locally it would amount to about 100 dog thefts within Essex during that year. This may seem a high number but to put it into perspective during 2012, there were 14,330 burglaries recorded in Essex.

Although there is no substantiated figures for the number of incidents, it is acknowledged that dog theft has risen over the last few years. Trained working dogs being the target of choice with some evidence to suggest that such thefts are organised with certain breeds being stolen to order. Domestic dog theft tends to be opportunistic with dogs being taken from gardens, vehicles and from public areas when left unattended. The main reason for dog theft is to extract money either from the victim by claiming the rewards that are offered and via blackmail, or from unsuspecting buyers by selling on the black market and Internet sites. Other reasons for their theft may include illicit breeding stock and their use in other illicit activities such as badger baiting, hare coursing and dog fighting.

As mentioned earlier, if you believe your dog has been stolen, it is important that you can provide information that supports this belief so that the crime can be recorded. Once recorded the details will be placed on the NMPR (National Mobile Property Register) which is accessible by all police forces and contains identifiable features of any “property” stolen. In the case of a dog the most important means of identification would be the data retrieved from an embedded microchip. As from 2016 it will be a legal requirement for every dog owner in England to have their animal micro chipped. Owners that do not comply are liable to a fine of £500. This legislation was brought in to try and combat the cost involved in dealing with the thousands of dogs dumped and lost each year. Estimated to be £57m in 2011/12. Compulsory microchipping may also reduce the number of opportunistic thefts that occur, due to the decrease in the value of stolen dogs if sold on for breeding or pets. It is obviously essential that the data on the chip is kept up to date, so remember to change the information when you move house and ask your vet to periodically check that the chip is still responding to the scanner.

A point overlooked by many is the question of proof of ownership. If your dog is stolen and later recovered how do you legally prove it belongs to you. On its own a microchip containing your details is not proof and registration/pedigree documents may not be enough to prove ownership in court. Ideally you will need documents confirming a transfer of ownership when you first obtained the dog and photos taken showing any distinguishing features preferably ones which are date stamped. Photos showing the dog with family members taken at different times are also valuable. Keep them in a safe place and hope that you will never need to use them for the purpose intended It also worth mentioning that if you are in a relationship it is wise to agree between you who is the actual owner. It is not unknown that when a relationship breaks down for one of the partners to be convinced that they are the owner but have no documentation to prove this in court.

Like any other form of crime prevention, taking steps to safeguard your pet is a mix of commonsense and awareness. The basic principals are, to lessen the value of the “target” and increase the risk/reduce the opportunities for a potential offender. It is not possible to make anything 100% secure from a determined thief and any steps you take should be a balance between you and your dogs lifestyle and any potential risk.

Microchipping and tattoing are good for reducing the value of your dog to a potential offender but they are not deterrents, unless appropriate warning signage is displayed on your garden gate. Although it is sometimes unavoidable, leaving your dog in a vehicle or tied up outside of a shop will significantly increases the risk of potential theft. No one will take any notice of someone walking away with a dog on a lead and it takes only seconds for someone to break the glass in your car and grab anything of value, including your precious pet. At home it is wise to ensure garden boundaries are secure and access from public space is restricted, not just to protect your pet but to also deter other acquisitive crime. When leaving your dog at home, whilst you are out, avoid leaving them in a room that can be easily viewed from public areas. The “Blue Cross” Web site offers further comprehensive advice and also has tips on what to do if the worst happens and your dog is lost or stolen. Finally a word of caution, think twice before offering a reward for returning a suspected stolen pet. The chances are that the thieves are waiting for you to do so, it the easiest way for them to convert their theft into money. If you state a monetary value, it will be the starting point for any negotiation and you could end up paying far more than you need or can afford.

Although one dog theft is too many, it is rare and owners should not be overly concerned for the safety of their pets. Stories in the media can be misleading and often induce a fear of crime which is not borne out by the facts.

Dog napping is one such example.

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Garden Security and Property Marking

Garden crime is on the increase. As the popularity of gardening grows, there is a correspondent increase in the retail spend on gardens and also unsurprisingly garden theft! Commonly stolen items include garden tools and equipment, ornaments, sculptures, outdoor furniture and even plants. Gardens are extremely vulnerable to theft as they are so accessible – walking through a gate or climbing a wall is much easier than breaking a window or door. Yet awareness about garden security is much lower than for house security. Thieves are opportunists so deterrent measures can be very effective. Below are some ideas of steps you can take to make your garden and home a less attractive target for thieves.

Sheds Garden sheds range enormously in size from the small tool store right up to the large summer house.  Although their construction is usually weak you can do a lot to deter the thief. Fit at least one BS EN12320 padlock at the centre of the door using coach bolts to secure the hasp and staple rather than screws.  Adding large washers beneath the bolt heads will help prevent the bolts from pulling through the door if it is forced.  Install a steel back-plate on the inside of the door to receive the bolts for maximum strength. Shed doors invariably open outwards, which mean the hinges are exposed.  Attach the hinges with coach bolts and make sure they do not have pins that can be driven out.  If they do these should be replaced.

Windows If you never open the shed windows, screw them into their frames from the inside if possible.  If you need the windows to open fit appropriate locks. If you are happy to spend more than a few pounds on your garden security, have security grills installed on the inside of the windows. Hanging net curtains or ordinary curtains behind the glass will make it difficult for the burglar to see what you keep in the shed.  You could also use reflective plastic film.

Internal Security You can buy steel security boxes and cages from most large DIY stores which can be fixed to the floor joists or concrete base.  These are ideal for storing valuable items such as power tools or dangerous chemicals.  You can of course make your own wooden box and secure it in the same manner, locking the edge with a strong hasp and staple and padlock. To make it more difficult to steal garden spades and forks you can pass a heavy chain through the handles and attach it to an anchor plate with a padlock. If you keep bicycles in the shed chain them to an anchor place, preferably with an insurance rated D-Lock.

Alarm There are plenty of stand alone out-building alarms to choose from.  Most are battery operated or work of a mains using an AC adaptor.  Nearly all of them employ a passive infra-red detector to sense movement.  If triggered they operate a deafening sound making it unpleasant to be in the vicinity.  With a little luck this should warn a trusted neighbour that something is amiss.

Padlocks There are four main types of padlocks; open shackle; long shackle; closed shackle and combination. Always buy padlocks that conform to BS EN12320. The main features you need to check are corrosion resistance and the security rating, which is graded from 1 to 6, where 1 is the lowest and 6 is the highest.  For most domestic situations the security grade of 3 to 4 should be sufficient.

Ladders If you cannot put the ladder in your garage or shed, hang it on brackets fixed to the house wall, a boundary wall or fence.  Run a chain or steel cable through the rungs and through a large screw eye fixed securely into the brickwork or fence post.

Climbing Aids Consider carefully the potential for climbing from your garden onto flat roofs up to vulnerable windows, over the fence into a neighbour’s garden or into and out of a back alley, open land.  Burglars will use garden chairs and tables, dustbins and any built in features such as rain water and soil pipes.  In this situation you need to apply common sense.  You do not want to severely prune a beautiful old wisteria or other climbing plants or trees just for the sake of security.  Instead you may need to upgrade the security of a window that can be reached because of the climbing aid treating it as if it were on the ground floor.

Regularly Stolen Garden Items Among the items that are regularly taken from gardens are potted trees, hanging baskets, newly planted trees and specialist shrubs.  All types of garden furniture, ornamental plant boxes, pool and swimming pool pumps.  Much of this property is stolen from gardens in the dead of night using vehicles.  It will be sold on to dealers or at car boot sales within days.  Plants of all types account from a quarter of all property stolen from gardens so it is worth investing a few pounds in securing them.

Hanging Baskets A cheap method of preventing theft of a hanging basket, or at least slowing the thief down, is to attach the baskets to their brackets with heavy gauge wire.   You can actually obtain lockable hanging baskets through the internet and some garden centres and DIY stores.

Trees, Shrubs and Containers Any trees or shrubs that you have just planted in front of your house are the most vulnerable to theft because they are clearly new, especially if they have their labels hanging from them.  If the plant is new its roots will not have developed sufficiently to hold it into the ground.  Fortunately you can secure the new plant with a device called a plant anchor.  Protecting your garden with fencing, hostile hedging, security lighting, cameras and locked gates will help to keep your plants safe but you may to wish to give additional protection to especially treasured plants. Plant anchors can be used to protect valuable specimens. Also try putting a layer of chicken wire under the surface of the soil when planting to prevent plants from being removed. Plant pots can be chained and padlocked through the drainage hole. Allotment holders have problems with their crops being picked and stolen. Guidelines for garden security in terms of securing the perimeter and ensuring visibility apply but unfortunately sometimes the theft is carried out by other allotment holders. If crop theft becomes a serious problem at your allotment it may be worth considering a security camera.

Garden Furniture Store garden furniture in your most secure outbuilding when not in use, but if you cannot do this and have to leave it outside, secure it to the ground using anchors, chains and padlocks.  At the very least mark the underside of the tables and chairs with your post code.

Bicycles Although a bicycle is more likely to be stolen when left in the street, precautions should still be taken when it is at home to make sure the bicycle is locked in the most secure outbuilding you have.  For further protection use a chain, cable or ‘D’ lock to secure it to a wall or floor bracket.  If your family has more than one bicycle then chain them together.  Have the frame engraved or stamped with your postcode.

Protecting your Garden with Walls and Fences Planting thorny hedges can be an effective and ecologically sound way to secure the perimeter of your garden but it is a slow solution. It will take a number of years for your hedge to grow sufficiently to form a successful barrier.  The advantage of fencing is it offers an immediate security solution. The efficacy of fencing can be further enhanced by planting thorny climbing roses such as Albertine or Bobby James along the fence. Alternatively, spikes can be placed along fences and walls but these will be less aesthetically pleasing. Anti-climb paint is a gel like paint that never sets. It can be used on walls and fences and makes climbing extremely difficult/impossible. It is important to be aware of local legislation and guidelines for perimeter security measures. Restrictions vary but may include a minimum height for installation and a requirement for warning signs.

Fencing Certain types of fencing are more robust than others when it comes to creating a long lasting protective boundary.  Wooden fences are not the best means of keeping out intruders but they will deter the climbing burglar or at least make it more difficult for him to get in or out which maybe enough to make him think again.  When constructing this type of fence with wooden posts it is important to use galvanised metal brackets to fix to the posts so they cannot be lifted out or blown out in strong winds.  If you are using concrete posts, secure each panel to its neighbour using a suitable metal strap.

Trellis Topping Topping a wooden fence with trellis can stop a burglar from climbing over.  The strength of the trellis used in this way lies in its weakness.  This may sound daft, but that is precisely the way it works.  A burglar knows that it may collapse if he attempts to climb over (risking injury) so he is faced with a choice of trying to pull it down (difficult if it carries a thorny rose) or moving on to an alternative target.

Gates A path or a driveway at the side of a semi-detached property can be quite vulnerable.  In some cases this will have a gate that opens onto the back garden.  In this situation the burglar can often climb over or force the gate with little likelihood of being seen from the street or neighbouring house.  The gate should be at least 1.8 metres high, approximately 6 foot, and be designed to resist forcing and climbing.  A single gate should be locked into its frame using a BS 3621 kite marked mortice sash lock which will allow the gate to be unlocked from both sides.  A double gate should be secured with a hasp, staple and padlock.  The second opening gate having a sturdy bolt that shoots into the ground.

Security Lighting A wide variety of security lighting is available.  Light units come in a range of sizes to cater for all types of installation.  There are lights with sensors, some with high wattage lamps, others with energy efficient lamps, lanterns that fit onto a wall and others that fix into the ground such as spiked ones.  Choosing the right type can be difficult, but you must make sure that it will provide the appropriate light for its location. There are 4 types of security lighting: manual lighting, timer operated lighting, movement sensor lighting and dusk til dawn lighting.

Manual Lighting The disadvantage of using manually operated security lighting is you can’t operate the lighting to protect your home when you are away on holiday, which is probably the time it is most at risk from burglary.

Timer Operated Lighting Timer operated security lights are programmed to turn on and off automatically whenever suits. Some allow for multiple lighting periods over a 24 hour period. Although some timer operated lights can be used outdoors, they are probably better suited to indoor use – where they can be used to give the impression that your home is occupied when you are away.

Movement Sensor Lighting Most movement sensor lighting is tungsten halogen lamps that are operated by passive infra-red receiver (PIR). These lights are rather energy inefficient. However, there are now a few solar powered movement sensor lights on the market. Motion sensors are often triggered by animals and numerous false activations can both increase fear of crime and desensitize owners (“Oh – it was probably just the cat!”).

Dusk till Dawn Lighting These lights come on automatically as it gets dark and go off again as it starts to get light. This kind of security lighting is much more energy efficient than movement sensor lights. It also has advantages in addition to security – the light is aesthetically pleasing and convenient for the occupants of the property if they want to sit out in the garden at night.

More information at  http://www.essexinfo.net/essex-eye/crime-prevention-advice/burglary/

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