New cat and dog law comes into force with five year jail penalty

Abducting a pet has become a criminal offence after the Pet Abduction Bill received Royal Assent on Friday, May 24. Under the Pet Abduction Act 2024, anyone found guilty of stealing a pet in England or Northern Ireland will face up to five years in prison, a fine, or both.

The new law recognises that cats and dogs are not inanimate objects but sentient beings capable of experiencing distress and other emotional trauma when they are stolen from their owners or keepers.

Evidence from the Pet Theft Taskforce suggests around 2,000 dog and over 400 cat theft crimes were reported to police in 2020, causing considerable distress for owners and their pets alike. With an estimated 28% of UK adults owning a dog and 24% owning a cat, pet theft is a major concern to the public.

Support for the Act builds upon wider action to protect pets from theft, including making the microchipping of cats compulsory from 10 June 2024. This makes it easier for lost, stray or stolen pets to be reunited with their owners and returned home safely.

MP Anna Firth, the Bill’s sponsor, told the Commons: “We are showing by our actions that cats and dogs are not just items, and that abducting them causes real distress to families and to individuals. Because actions speak far louder than words and this Bill will send a signal that we take animal welfare seriously in the UK.”

MP Ben Everitt said the Bill resolves “a gap that has existed in law for far too long”, adding that current legislation does not reflect the impact of pet abduction. During the report stage of the Bill, Conservative former minister Sir Christopher Chope argued the Bill should only apply to dogs and cats which have been microchipped.

The MP said: “If you don’t have your cat or dog microchipped, then you shouldn’t be able to expect the law to come to rush to your assistance in the event of your cat or dog being abducted. So, because apart from anything else, if you complain to the police that your cat or dog has been abducted and it hasn’t been microchipped, it is all the more difficult to identify it and search for it, and so on.

“It seemed to me that on that great principle of English equity, if you seek to come to the law, and protection of the law, you should come with clean hands.”

It is compulsory for dogs to be microchipped and this will also apply to pet cats from June, under new Government reforms which aim to make microchip records easier to access, improve the accuracy of the information they contain and standardise databases.

Environment minister Robbie Moore said guidance will be provided to police, adding: “In the event that they can recover an abducted cat or dog that is not microchipped, they have the power to issue a notice under English microchipping regulations requiring pets to be microchipped within 21 days.

“For completeness, failing to comply with such a notice is an offence and subject to a fine of £500.”

Sir Christopher also argued the Bill should be extended to cover other pets such as tortoises. MPs agreed to amend the Bill to ensure the sections on dog and cat abduction also extend to Wales.

Animal welfare charity Cats Protection welcomed the Bill, stating it will “finally give pets the full recognition they deserve”.

The charity’s senior advocacy and government relations officer Annabel Berdy said the Bill will “help stamp out the criminal activities that prey on much-loved pet cats by onward selling or from breeding kittens to sell”.