London dog thefts: Just three criminal charges as American bulldogs top list of pets taken

Of more than 850 dog thefts in London in the last two years, just three have led to criminal charges.

The Met Police recorded 436 dog thefts in 2022, up slightly on 422 in 2021.

Last year, Croydon had the highest number of thefts (33) and the breed most often stolen in London was the American bulldog.

Only three incidents in the last two years, all in 2021, led to a charge or a summons, although it remains possible more charges will be brought.

The Kennel Club described the number of prosecutions across the UK as “really disappointing” but police chiefs say it is often hard to identify suspects.

In 2021 the government the Kept Animals Bill, which would see increased jail terms increased to up to five years - but campaigners are concerned it may not follow through.

A spokesperson for the RSPCA said: “It was really welcome that the UK government announced plans to make pet theft a specific offence under its Kept Animals Bill - offering more assurances to owners. However, the legislation has been in limbo for 500 days - and we're increasingly worried these plans could be dropped altogether.”

Debbie Matthews, co-founder of the Stolen and Missing Pets Alliance (SAMPA), said “time is running out” for the Kept Animals Bill. The government said it takes the issue of pet theft very seriously.

Bulldogs and Staffordshire bull terriers

In 2022 the American bulldog was the most stolen breed (63), followed by the Staffordshire bull terrier (49), French bulldog (41) and chihuahua (22).

The Staffordshire bull terrier topped the list in 2021 with 56 thefts.

BreedDog thefts in 2021Dog thefts in 2022
Akita Inu13
Alaskan Malemute11
American Bulldog2563
American Pitbull02
Basset Hound01
Bavarian Mountain Hound01
Belgian Shepherd10
Belgium Malinois 02
Bichon Frise37
Border Collie02
Border Terrier10
Boston Terrier01
British Bulldog03
Bull Mastiff02
Bull Terrier52
Cane Corso55
Chinese Crested10
Chow Chow33
Cocker Spaniel814
French Bulldog3041
French Mastiff02
German Shepherd1912
Golden Retriever20
Great Dane02
Jack Russell1014
Japenese Shiba Inu10
King Charles Cavalier41
Laizhou Hong50
Minature Dachshund10
Miniature Pinscher01
Miniature Schnauzer01
not recorded/Unknown6258
Pedenco Maneto10
Presa Canario12
Toy Poodle10
Scottish Fold10
Shar Pei12
Sheep dog10
Shih Tsu1410
Siberian Husky31
Springer Spaniel11
Staffordshire Bull Terrier5649
Tibetan Terrier10
Turkish Kangal10
West Highland Terrier34
Yorkshire Terrier713

Croydon and Southwark

Croydon had the most dog thefts in 2022 with 33 - up from 20 in 2021. Other boroughs with high numbers of incidents included Hackney (27), Lambeth (24), Greenwich (22) and Bromley (20).

Southwark had the most in 2021 with 21.

BoroughDog thefts in 2021Dog thefts in 2022
Barking and Dagenham1010
Hammersmith and Fulham1115
Kensington and Chelsea713
Kingston upon Thames115
Richmond upon Thames175
Tower Hamlets1911
Waltham Forest1410

‘Our pets are members of our families’

NationalWorld sent Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to the UK’s 45 police forces, receiving responses from 33 of them.

The results show more than 1,600 dog thefts were reported in 2022, with more than 1,700 individual dogs stolen - although with a quarter of forces failing to respond, the figure will likely be higher.

Of the crimes where police provided an investigation outcome, just 14 (0.9%) had resulted in someone being charged or sent a court summons.

Ms Matthews said this low rate demonstrates the importance of making dog abduction a specific crime.

She said: “The prosecution rate is so low because dogs are still categorised as ‘property’ in law, the same as a laptop. Property theft is low priority to the police and the Sentencing Council; our dogs in law are merely second-hand goods valued under £500. This is precisely why we at SAMPA and the public have campaigned so hard to get a specific crime for dog theft. Our pets are members of our families and the law must reflect this.”

Dr Ed Hayes, head of public affairs at The Kennel Club, said: “It’s really disappointing to hear such a low rate in prosecutions.”

But he said the nature of dog thefts means “it can be very challenging to identify suspects, especially in case of dogs being stolen from gardens, parks and open spaces, where thieves may be out of sight from owners”.

A spokesperson for the National Police Chiefs’ Council said: “In cases like this, investigators often face difficulties in identifying suspects and obtaining evidence, which can make seeking prosecutions difficult.

“We recognise, however, that there is a huge emotional impact on families who have their much-loved pet stolen from them. We investigate every such crime reported to us and work with partners such as RSPCA to ensure criminals feel the full weight of the law. By targeting prolific offenders, and organised crime networks, we are able to stop these offences from happening in the first place.”

Figures show just how rare dog theft prosecutions are in London.Figures show just how rare dog theft prosecutions are in London.
Figures show just how rare dog theft prosecutions are in London.

Dog thefts falling after spike during pandemic

The overall number of dog thefts across the UK fell by 15% last year, compared with the year before, NationalWorld’s investigation found.

Ms Matthews said the price of puppies soared to around £3,000 during the pandemic as people rushed to buy lockdown companions, which in turn led to a spike in thefts.

She said: “This is the first year we have seen a drop in FOI theft figures and we welcome this news but there are still a large number of dogs being taken and this is simply not acceptable. The pain and suffering caused to families by pet theft is devastating.”

The National Police Chiefs’ Council spokesperson said: “During the pandemic we saw the cost of a puppy rise considerably, although demand began to change as we returned to a more normal living pattern. This encouraged some opportunistic criminals to take advantage of unsuspecting people by stealing dogs for illegal breeding or resale.

“The police, together with the Home Office, stood up a national working group to tackle the issue. This was stood down at the beginning of 2023, as there had been a decline in the volume of offences, which are now more in-line with pre-pandemic levels.”

Dr Hayes said: “It’s fantastic to see the numbers of thefts declining year-on-year, with fewer families experiencing the heartache of having their dog stolen, although clearly substantial numbers of dog thefts are still taking place.

“We’ve seen significant falls in the prices for dogs over the past 12 months which are likely to have diminished the appeal of stealing a dog. In addition, there has been a lot of media attention towards dog theft over the past few years, which will have encouraged owners to be more vigilant and they will have taken more precautionary measures to keep their dog safe.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) said: "The Government takes the issue of pet theft very seriously and we understand the pain and distress caused by the theft of a much loved family pet.

“We launched the Pet Theft Taskforce and are implementing its recommendations which include the creation of a new pet abduction offence; identifying and tracking cases of pet theft; and microchipping reform to strengthen the process of transferring keepership and prevent the creation of duplicate records.”

How to protect your dog from theft

There are steps dog owners can take to help protect their pets from being stolen.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council advises people to:

  • Check your social media privacy settings when sharing pictures of your pets online;
  • If you are selling puppies, be aware of how you are advertising them as this can attract the attention of criminals looking to target sellers;
  • Be vigilant of anyone acting suspiciously or watching your dog while you are walking them and don’t ever give someone you don’t know personal information;
  • Avoid leaving your dog tied outside of a shop or other public spaces. If you have errands to run, leave your dog at home;
  • Conduct proper research when using sitters and kennels by checking references and making sure you’re using a reputable company;
  • If your dog is in your garden, keep an eye on them at all times and make sure side gates are locked;
  • Never leave your dog alone in the car, as they could make a tempting target for a thief as well as risking overheating;
  • Seek advice online before you buy a pet, making sure you check where it’s come from and that it is being bought legally.

The Kennel Club also advises owners:

  • Make sure that your dog is microchipped and their details are registered and kept up-to-date with a microchip database, such as Petlog;
  • While out on a walk, make sure you can always see your dog and that your dog’s recall is strong. Be aware of strangers asking too many questions about your dog and report anything suspicious to the police;
  • If your dog is stolen, it is crucial to act quickly and report the crime to the police, making sure your dog is correctly reported as stolen and not lost. Also, notify your microchip provider and alert your local authority dog warden if you have one, as well as nearby rescue centres and vets. Social media can be a helpful tool to spread the word quickly.