Maine Coon is unprotected by the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill in the UK!

Please don't run off because this is about the boring law. It concerns cats and dogs and their theft which is of major importance to all cat and dog owners in the UK and elsewhere. Specifically, it is about a proposed law, the Kept Animals Bill, being debated in the UK Parliament. 

It is at the report stage in the House of Commons and therefore it is progressing quite well. It was introduced by George Eustice of the Department of for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. This is "a Bill to make provision about the welfare of certain kept animals that are in, imported into, or exported from Great Britain.

Maine Coon is unprotected by the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill in the UK!
Maine Coon is unprotected by the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill in the UK! Image: MikeB

Its intention is to improve welfare standards through a wide range of measures. Although the Bill introduces a raft of new laws regarding puppy smuggling, live exports, banning the keeping of primates as pets and livestock worrying together with an amendment to improve zoo regulations, one aspect of the bill unfairly omits cats from its protection.

A new criminal offence has been added to the government's Kept Animals Bill which further helps to protect animals.

Currently, a pet is considered to be the 'property' of the owner which in this context means legally an inanimate object no different to any other object in the home.

This means that if a cat or dog is stolen judges can't take into account the emotional distress it causes to the caregiver.

The new offence will take into account the emotional distress caused to both the owner and the dog. It will help judges to hand down more targeted penalties and sentences to pet thieves.

I've mentioned "the dog". This new offence does not yet apply to cats which is, in the view of many, a bad omission. I am unsure why cats have been omitted (but see below). It is a clear example of speciesism. It seems that as the law helps prevent dog theft, might it not encourage thieves to steal expensive cats instead?

However, there is a provision in the bill "to extend the offence to other pets in the future, should evidence support this". The quotes come from the UK government's website.

My immediate thoughts went to the Maine Coon cat because this is a valuable purebred, pedigree cat which is sometimes allowed out of the home unsupervised where they can be stolen.

And there's no reason to believe that they can't be stolen from inside the home. It must happen from time to time. That said, I think most people keep their Maine Coon cats inside and when allowed outside it is only under supervision of some sort.

The new offence has been introduced because there has been a rise in pet thefts during the Covid pandemic. The Pet Theft Task Force launched in May 2021 recommended a change to the law.

There were a reported 2,000 incidents of pet thefts in 2021 in the UK (I bet there were many more). Around seven in 10 or 70% of the thefts concern dogs. Perhaps that is one reason why cats have been omitted from the Bill and why they have made provision for an alteration to the law to include cats in the future.

The environment secretary, George Eustice, said:

"The loss of a much-loved pet causes unique distress. I am pleased that we are legislating to recognise this specific crime. The new dog abduction offence will reflect the impact on animals in penalties for criminals and deliver justice for victims."

The RSPCA are naturally pleased. David Bowles, the Head of Public Affairs agreed that the theft of a pet is devastating, and they are pleased that the government has announced these amendments. They mentioned that the law applies to dogs, but they are "really pleased to see the government has also recognised how much other animals mean to people as well and put in provision to extend it to other pets."

The new law includes sentences up to 5 years in prison for pet theft on conviction.

Dogs are more exposed to being stolen it seems to me even though they are often on a lead but many times they are off a lead in a park where they run off and can be stolen.

Cats are often more cautious and suspicious of strangers and therefore retreat from them. They hide readily and when they go outside, they often go out at dawn and dusk and at night when there are less people around and where they are hidden by the darkness. 

Perhaps this accounts for the lower number of thefts of cats including the fact that there are more purebred dogs than there are purebred cats.

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