Recently, The Kennel Club (England) (TKC) asked for Scottish dog owners to respond to a consultation launched by Maurice Golden, a member of the Scottish Parliament for North East Scotland, to support the introduction of a specific criminal offense for dog theft. A consultation is an opportunity for the public to comment on an idea prior to the idea becoming a bill filed in Parliament. The proposed Dog “Abduction” (Scotland) Bill would create a new statutory offense for dog theft and other situations where a dog is taken or kept without lawful authority.
The concerns justifying the proposal are similar to the American Kennel Club’s (AKC) public warnings about the rise in pet thefts. However, the first point of concern with the Scottish proposal is whether a new law is actually needed. Consider the proposal’s apparent relationship to TKC’s position on pet thefts:
Currently, undue weighting is placed on a pet’s monetary value as opposed to their emotional worth when sentencing those guilty of pet theft. The value of a large proportion of older dogs stolen would be deemed well under £500 – the monetary threshold for which an offence is considered category four – meaning that owners of such dogs are unlikely to receive the justice they deserve. As such, we are calling on the UK Government and the devolved administrations to amend sentencing provisions in order to ensure a dog’s sentience, their role within their family, and the emotional harm inflicted on pet owners [who are] victim to this crime are fully taken into account.
Despite currently carrying a maximum penalty of seven years’ imprisonment in England and Wales, Rt Hon. George Eustice MP – then Minister of State for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – highlighted in 2018 that there was little evidence of the maximum sentence provisions being used and a much more lenient approach is typically pursued in cases that end up in court. There is also little evidence of maximum sentences being handed out to dog theft criminals in Scotland and Northern Ireland. In cases where a suspect is identified and there is sufficient evidence to proceed with further action, less than 5% of cases result in a suspect being charged. [Emphasis added.]
The bolded language demonstrates the real issue is a need for improved enforcement of current theft laws; not new laws. However, law enforcement as a practical solution holds little appeal for extreme animal groups who rely on manipulating society’s deep emotional ties to its pets to justify proposing radical changes to laws dealing with animals. This leads to the second point of concern with the Scotland pet theft law consultation: it would also require that a dog’s feelings be taken into account.
One strategy of animal rights activists is to advocate for new laws that would require an animal’s purported feelings, interests, or intent be taken into account in all facets of humans’ relationships with animals. They believe that such changes would surely lead to changing the legal classification of animals under the law, from property to legal persons.
AKC remains deeply concerned about the philosophical, political, and legal impacts of the animal rights movement, which does not seek to improve the wellbeing of animals, but rather to stop their breeding by, and interaction with, humans. The Scottish proposal may actually prove to be the latest step in western Europe’s steady march toward anti-ownership policies.
Instead of such a radical agenda, AKC supports the traditional legal classification and treatment of animals as legal property, and for good reason. For centuries, the concept of animal ownership has provided a reliable framework by which owners derive both the right and responsibility to provide care in a manner that is best for their animals, while also protecting them from appropriation by public or private entities. Together with criminal laws prohibiting animal cruelty and dog fighting, and a multitude of civil laws and causes of action that address owners’ interests and the negligent injuring and killing of animals, these traditions have served as the foundation of a stable legal system that serves all animal owners by promoting responsible animal ownership; deterring animal abuse; and promoting innovative, affordable, and quality animal care.
Click here to learn more about the Legal Status of Animals in AKC’s Legislative Action Center.