How to get back your Stolen or Rehomed Pet

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Stolen/Rehomed Pets – UK Law

Your dog or cat is the love of your life. But under UK Law they are a possession, an item of property like any computer or piece of furniture you own, (commonly called a “chattel”). Ownership of chattels, your dog or cat, means you own them outright, “absolute”. You can treat, use and dispose of them as you wish, subject to protection under Welfare of Animals (not covered within this article).

In theory, your Pet is yours and no-one other than you can claim ownership, even if your pet has strayed and found a new home. However, you may have to prove ownership, and we cover this under “How to Prepare” further down in this article.

Your pet is stolen or rehomed (someone who found and claims your dog or cat as theirs) then it is pet theft. Theft sentencing has four levels, with levels one and two being the most likely for pet theft. Neither can be classed as acting as a particular deterrent, being, high-level community order and one year’s custodial starting point, in that order. Emotional distress is taken into account in sentencing level three, and even if you reach level two, we feel that Pet Theft sentencing is way to low for the distress levels inflicted on the pets family. Hopefully, it will change soon?

 

How to get your Stolen Pet back

Should you lose your dog immediately inform your local authority and keep in contact with them. Doing this is crucial, if your local council’s Dog Warden seizes your dog and you have not made contact about losing your dog they may give your dog to someone else, or worse destroyed after a week has passed. As ownership does not transfer to a new owner, you may still be able to claim your dog back if you come forward at a later date. However, it is better not to take that chance.

Notify the police and get a crime number. While they may not respond to your action of reporting your pet as stolen, you may well help your case if your pet is found and there is an ownership dispute.

Make sure your Microchip database records are up to date with your current address and contact numbers, etc.

 

How to prepare – Does the Court determine who gets your Pet?

Pet ownership cases usually go before the Small Claims Court, and the District Judge has the power to determine who is the rightful owner. Therefore some preparation is required by you as there is no single piece of evidence that can conclusively determine you as the pets owner. The judge would decide ownership based on the evidence provided:

• Show you notified your local council your dog was missing
• Have your police crime number ready to show you reported your pet missing to the police
• Have a copy of any purchase note from a rehoming centre or breeder
• If your dog or cat is registered with a club (Kennel Club) show the registration details
• Have your vet’s practice registration details, any invoices you have paid, or monthly health care plan detail available
• If you have your pet insurance, have a copy of the certificate ready
• If you have a monthly food plan with a supplier, have a copy of any invoices or a screenshot of the program
• Have you booked a holiday and paid extra to take your pet with you, have the details at hand
• Nearly all of us have thousands of photos on our phone of our pets, any recent ones showing your dog or cat in your house, in your garden or with you would help
• Not common, but if you had your pet DNA tested and stored in your name, then it would be hard for a Judge to dismiss this evidence of ownership

How can you minimise the risk of your Dog or Cat being Stolen or Rehomed?

 

Dogs

Under the Control of Dogs Order 1992, every dog in a public place should wear a collar ID Tag. The dog Id Tag must provide the contact details of the owner, at the very least Name and Address, and if possible, a phone number. By complying with this requirement, the risk of a lost dog finding a new home will be reduced. Not to provide your dog with a dog ID Tag is a criminal offence resulting in a fine.

New legislation from April 2016, Microchipping of Dogs (England) Regulations 2015, means all dog owners must have their dogs microchipped when the dog is eight weeks old. Once microchipped the dog’s owner’s details must be lodged with the microchip number on a database so if your stolen or lost dog is found it will be returned to you.

A fine for not providing your dog with an ID tag and microchip is terrible enough but far worse is if a Dog Warden has seized your dog. If a Dog Wardens can’t correctly identify your dog, they have the power to sell, destroy or perhaps pass your dog to a rehoming centre if you have not reclaimed your dog within seven days.

 

Cats

Our poor cats have even less protection. Once a cat is found, there is no seven-day break for you to reclaim them. Cats can be rehomed immediately by any rescue centre they may have been sent.

It is therefore vital you, at the very least, ensure your cat is microchipped and registered in a database in your name. Many prefer not to have their cat fitted with a collar and ID tag, cats being free to roam are far more likely than dogs to catch their collar, on say a tree branch, and become trapped. Plus, as having neither an ID tag nor microchipped are required by law why bother. Reducing any chance of losing your cat has got to be worth considering. Many cat collars have quick-release buckles allowing your cat to break free if it becomes trapped, well worth considering.

With regards to microchipping your cat, this doesn’t even need thinking; it should already be microchipped?

Anyone seeing a dog or cat wearing a collar and ID tag will know this pet belongs to a family somewhere. Having gone to the trouble of fitting a collar and ID tag, they will more than likely have had their dog or cat microchipped, even DNA ID registered. All of which may deter anyone considering stealing or taking your pet home from actually doing it.

 

Links of interest:

A recent article by the BBC regarding pet theft law change.

Dogs Today article highlights the lack of specific laws for pet theft

• An article by a solicitor specialising in dog ownership disputes

• An article which covers ownership and responsibilities placed on you when you look after a cat

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