The Cat Theft Report

Cat owners love their pets just as much as dog owners love theirs!

We wanted to find out if more cats are being stolen or is this crime now being commonly reported and properly recorded by the police?

Photo of cat and dog togetherAre cat owners being 'fobbed off' when they report to the Police that their beloved cat has been stolen?  Or are the Police correct to assume that a cat has the right to roam and they will often have several homes they like to visit? Are ownership disputes confused with outright stealing?

Cat theft victim Toni Clarke was devastated when her pet mysteriously disappeared after a delivery driver left at her property during the summer of 2013. As soon as she noticed her cat had gone she immediately reported the theft of her Siamese cat 'Clooney' but how serious did the Police take her plea to get her family member back?
Cat theft victim Toni Clarke and her stolen Siamese cat
Toni Clarke with Clooney

"The reaction of the policeman answering my call could only be described as instant, disinterested dismissal, citing cats' 'right to roam' and that they were in a separate category due to this intrinsic and well accepted, nomadic instinct.

I tried reporting Clooney's disappearance as a theft again a few weeks later when I was utterly convinced there was no other explanation. I had spent every hour for weeks searching, postering, delivering fliers, door knocking, walking, calling, crying.... He had quite simply vanished. And despite having employed the services of a tracker dog on two separate occasions who had found not a trace, the answer was still a heart-sinkingly definitive, "No".
No concrete proof, no Crime Reference Number issued.

So despite reporting Clooney as a potential victim of pet theft twice to Norfolk Police, he remains unrecorded on their statistics of theft. My experience throws a huge question mark over the integrity of police data and their consistency across Forces in recording what people are actually reporting. Owners' reporting of cat theft is distinct from, and shouldn't be confused with, police recording of pet theft crimes. It is clear from the wide discrepancy in numbers recorded across the forces, with some recording zero year on year, such as Lincolnshire, that this could just as easily reflect the cold spots of police interest or policy, as it does the hot spots of cat theft crime. Many Forces clearly take the theft of our felines much more seriously as reflected in their data, and these Forces are to be commended. But we need consistency across the UK on their policies and attitude."

So, we asked John Cooper QC if cats can be stolen and he said, "Absolutely".
With this in mind we wanted to find out if constabularies are taking this crime seriously and so we did a 'Freedom of Information' (foi) request to 48 forces in the UK to see if there were any trends.

It is important to obtain data over several years so requests were made for 2015, 2016, and 2017 with a view to gather 2018's results once the year is complete. Individual forces can decline requests if they are too costly to gather.

The Freedom of Information questions we asked were:

What were the total number of cat theft crimes in 2015, 2016, and 2017?

What was the outcome (charge/summons, community resolution, active investigation, evidential difficulties, no suspect identified) for each cat theft crime in 2015, 2016, and 2017?

What criteria do you use for recording a cat/kitten as a theft as opposed to missing?

724 reported cat thefts in the uk in three years from 2015 to 2017Those failing to give us their data were:

Hampshire Constabulary
North Wales Police
Police Scotland
Sussex Police

Regional Data Recorded Cat Thefts

All 48 UK police freedom of information request for stolen cats

So what does this data mean?

Are the regions with higher numbers cat theft 'hot spots' ?
Or is it that these constabularies take this crime seriously and record data properly to give a true picture?

The 2018 data may well give us a clearer picture but until then you will have to make your own mind up.

We expected that some forces genuinely take this crime more seriously than others and hopefully by requesting these figures it will prompt better future records.

Also it is important to note that we only have information on the reporting of cat theft. If two or more cats were stolen at the same time this data doesn't account for this.

List of UK police recordings of cat thefts

Who steals cats?

Cats are stolen for many reasons but in many cases it is 'Theft by Finding'- a criminal offence where someone assumes possession without taking reasonable measures to find the true owner.

Ownership disputes can also occur when couples part or housemates separate. There have been incidents where an ex-partner has deliberately taken a cat as an act of revenge.

Pedigrees have been targeted for resale or breeding.

Which Forces have acted on Cat Theft?

This data is very important because it shows which constabularies have taken this crime seriously.

Graph of UK cat theft prosecutions and cautions from 2015 to 2017
Graph of UK cat theft prosecutions and cautions from 2015 to 2017

Twelve prosecutions total for 2015, 2016, and 2017:

"Well done to the constabularies who have brought prosecutions. The figures show there has been a total of only twelve prosecutions in three years. The cautions would suggest that the suffering of the owner is not being considered. The theft of a pet is life changing so a 'slap-on-the-wrist' caution is not the strong deterrent needed to cut this crime. Unfortunately the value of the stolen 'object' is the deciding factor when it comes to punishments.".
Richard Jordan, Pet Theft Awareness.

Stolen V Missing:
Police criteria for recording a crime - is there a uniformity across the forces?

So what criteria do constabularies use for recording of a cat as stolen as opposed to missing and are your chances of having your concerns taken seriously dependent on a police force’s formal policy or on attitude?
Many of the constabularies cited the 'Home Office Counting Rules' on whether or when to record a crime. In essence this is determined on ‘balance of probability’ that a) the circumstances of the victim’s report amount to a crime as defined by law and b) there is no credible evidence to the contrary immediately available.
Others were arguably more subjective:
"If an individual believed their cat to be missing it would be recorded as such. If, however, they believed that it had been stolen it would be recorded as stolen and the Local Neighbourhood Team informed." (Derbyshire)
"Missing is not a property status variable…. therefore if a cat is reported as stolen it will always be recorded as such." (Devon and Cornwall)
"Cats being cats do go walkabout and unless there was anything to suggest that a crime has been committed then they would just assume to be missing." (West Midlands)
 "We would never record a missing cat as theft. It would not be ‘crimed’ unless there was evidence to support the assumption it had been stolen." (Humberside)

We therefore conclude that geographical location will influence whether your claim for being a victim of cat theft crime will be recorded as such and given a Crime Reference number.

Q: In pet ownership disputes does having a crime reference number affect the ability to claim back pets?

A: Yes, if you have to prove you have been actively and publicly searching for your pet.

    What Should Cat Owners Do?

    • Establish who legally owns each pet.
    • Have plenty of photographs, especially showing any distinguishing features.
    • Every time you visit your vet ensure the microchip is checked.
    • Theft by Finding is a crime.
      If you find a stray you must take reasonable action to find the owner.
    • Be aware of any local hot-spots of cats going missing. Share information.
    • If you are a cat theft victim insist that the police record it as a crime. As you can see from the results some forces are better at recording thefts than others. If at first you are denied a crime number please explain you require it and challenge the decision until you are issued one.

    Pet Theft Awareness advice for cat owners

    More cats are reported missing year-on- year:

    Cat supporting Pet Theft ReformDogLost's Wayne May explains "we're getting an average of 90 cats each month registered as missing or stolen and this number has been increasing year on year. Due to the nature of cats, it's hard to ascertain actual thefts.".
    is the UK's largest service for missing / stolen and found pets. Any animal can be registered and their service is free.

    Campaigner and dog theft victim Debbie Matthews adds: "We are grateful to Pet Theft Awareness, our partners at Stolen And Missing Pets Alliance (SAMPA) for working on Cat Theft figures.   The way police categorise Pet Theft varies and the same issues arise for both dogs and cats, although we have the added problem with cats as they have the right to roam and they will often have several homes they like to visit!

    To members of the public we ask you to ‘think lost’ when you see a stray cat or dog, they may be someone’s beloved pet.  Please report to the local animal warden and try to capture them and take to the vet to be scanned for a microchip.  Theft by Finding is a huge problem and estimating how many pets have disappeared this way is impossible to guess.

    What is the purpose of this Cat Theft report?

    Our aim is to encourage all authorities to understand that cats can be and are being stolen. To take it seriously it should be recorded properly. It is difficult to conclude much from the data but in a few years' time some patterns might emerge. Hopefully we can add the 2018 numbers to this ahead of the annual #MissingCatsDay on March 21st. In the future we'd like to get data on specific breeds but we were concerned to request this information (over a three year time-scale) as constabularies can refuse FOIs on cost grounds.
    Praise must be given to all the forces and police personnel who understand that cats are family. We'd like more understanding and action for victims and through perseverance we hope this can be achieved.

    Please mention Pet Theft Awareness or SAMPA if using any content.

    Support #PetTheftReform
    SAMPA: Stolen and Missing Pets Alliance


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