Cat Theft Report 2021

Cat Theft Report 2021

The 2021 UK Cat Theft Report:

In a year of soaring dog thefts during lockdown, we are asking the question: Are our family cats a target too?

With the public, media and police quite understandably focusing their attention on the burgeoning rise of dogs being stolen - we have all seen the shocking headlines during the Covid pandemic - has this created the opportunity for cat theft to become an increasingly invisible crime? 

Pet theft is NOT yet a specific crime despite several government petitions leading to parliamentary debates. Gathering data on cat theft is proving to be increasingly difficult due to the disparate nature of recording crime statistics across the forces, but perversely, had we requested data on bicycles, scrap metal or even wild mushroom theft, we would be working with a full return of figures as all three have their own categories under the Theft Act 1968. It's scandalous that the law attaches more value to these inanimate objects than it does our cherished companions!

Our FOI 2020 data returns show that recorded cat theft crime is up by 12.3% on a like-for-like basis in the past year, with a near threefold increase (194%) between 2015 and 2020. 

Following a shocking zero return in prosecutions across all forces in 2019, there was a welcome glimmer of hope in 2020 that cat thieves were at last being brought to justice with 13 cases reaching the courts last year. However, this was almost entirely attributable to one police force, the Metropolitan Police. 

Desirable breeds, particularly Bengals, remain the most targeted by cat thieves.

Before reading this report please ensure you sign the following important government petition:
Create a single database of microchipped cats and dogs & make scanning mandatory. : https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/551556/

The Insurance Emporium’s Chief Executive Officer, Francis Martin, said:
“The Insurance Emporium support the important work being done by Pet Theft Awareness, highlighting significant issues surrounding cat theft including the devastation caused by loss or theft of a beloved pet cat.  We wish Pet Theft Awareness the best of luck with their campaign to reform cat theft legislation and procedures, hopefully this will deter would-be cat thieves, which can only be good news.”



Why the need for a Cat Theft Report?

Very little primary data has been gathered about the extent of the theft threat for cats and our feline companions were being left out of the debate as a result. It seemed to us that if we were ever going to be able to sharpen our claws when it comes to legislation this needed urgent addressing.

One of our aims was to establish whether our police forces were recording cases of cat theft and whether there appeared to be any consistency in process and policy. What the results have shown is that there certainly seems to be a wide and increasing divergence.

The Cat Theft Report 2021 is the result of data gathered year-on-year under a Freedom of Information request to all UK police forces, spanning the period 2015-2020 and aims to get the theft of cats under scrutiny alongside their canine friends. In a year where we have appreciated the value of furry companionship more than any other and the demand for pets has escalated beyond supply, forcing the price of puppies and kittens to record levels, we want to know if this has also contributed to an increase in cat theft and what, if any, has been the police's response.


We look at the evidence: Is cat theft is being afforded any greater priority by our police?

Cat Theft Report Graph Totals
The 2020 statistics had us studying the trends with furrowed brows; what are we to make of this data? What is clear is that the figures being returned by police forces are suspiciously low given that as a nation we save a space on our sofas for an estimated 10.9 million cats and the clamour for the companionship of pets has seen a surge like no other year previous. 

More police forces decline FOI request

At first glance the 2020 data tells the story of cat theft crime up by just 2.4% in the past year - or at least as recorded by the police. However, with two further police forces declining our request for information this year, very much distorting the picture with fewer returns, we have needed to adapt the data to make them consistent. Consequently, excluding these police forces (Greater Manchester and Staffordshire, as well as Thames Valley who stopped reporting in 2019) from previous years to create a like-for-like comparison, this rises to 12.3%Whilst this is marginally the slowest annual rate of increase we have seen, it extends the trend of double digit percentage growth for a fifth successive year (50.7% increase in 2016, 15.5% in 2017, 33.7% in 2018 and 12.6% in 2019).


 

What do we make of this?

Rather than gaining solace from this apparent deceleration, we remain convinced that the recording of cat theft crime by the police is massively understated. In the absence of being able to compare FOI data against that collected from other databases such as DogLost or up-to-date figures from Insurance Companies we can but surmise, but if social media is anything to go by the situation is spiralling. We are certainly seeing platforms awash with the misery of bereft owners posting up photos of their mysteriously disappearing felines, creating a puzzling dichotomy in the cat theft picture with the police data we are scrutinising. Given the current appetite for fluffy lockdown friends generating an alarming surge in dog thefts, should we be hyper-vigilant to the possibility that are our cats are also being taken in the shadows of the pandemic? 

According to the 2020 figures the very worrying upward trend is continuing but it is hard to argue that police data is supporting the concern that we need to impose a similar 'right to roam' lockdown on the whiskered members of our families. The past year has ripped up the rulebook for most of us when it comes to redefining our roles and priorities - could it be that we are reporting our beloved felines as stolen but the police are failing to recognise that the theft-for-breeding/profit issue that is facing our desirable breeds of dogs could also be happening to our beloved cats? 

The answer to these questions remains ambiguous, but by gathering and publishing this data year on year it is hoped that it might throw this issue into the police spotlight.

So what is the story of cat theft in 2020?



Regional Data Recorded Cat Thefts 2015 to 2020

Regional Data Recorded Cat Thefts 2015 to 2020



How well did your police force do in 2020: which forces are upping their game and which are we keeping under surveillance?


The Cats' Whiskers Award for Cat Theft Recording has to go to the Metropolitan Police for consistent performance. This past year they were responsible for almost a third of the total number of cat thefts recorded across all the forces! Special mention must also be given to the Met for their dedicated interactive web-page on stolen pets: https://www.met.police.uk/sd/stats-and-data/met/stolen-animals-dashboard/ . What a reassuring sign that pet theft is very much on at least one police force's radar.

West Yorkshire accounted for almost 9% of those recorded and Kent at just over 7%.

At the other end of the spectrum, we are tempted to direct the spotlight of shame on the forces who recorded NO cases of cat theft at all in a whole year – and some for consecutive years. Derbyshire, Police Service of Northern Ireland, South Wales, Surrey and Merseyside returned an incredulous zero for 2020  - can they really be cat crime free zones? We are far from convinced. Infinitely more compelling is the conclusion that it's just not possible that these are perfectly law abiding areas of the UK when it comes to stealing cats, rather that they represent worrying regions of police indifference!

Just under half of the 44 forces have reported no incidents of cat theft at all in one or more of the years we have studied - there's only one conclusion from that sorry statistic!

Is the data all that it seems - a closer inspection.

The Metropolitan police dominate the charts but we wondered how the picture of diligence or cat theft might change when put in the context of population sizes for each of the force areas covered. This is where it gets enlightening...

With by far and away the largest population of all the forces at 8.9 million, the Metropolitan police actually slink down the performance charts with the top spot for cat crime recording, stolen by West Yorkshire and Kent. The big surprise from this was Cumbria: a very modest return in a less-than-auspicious set of data returns, in 2020 they have managed to claw their way to a very respectable 2nd place status on account of having the smallest population and upping their game considerably. Well done to these forces.  

And what about the laggards? Once again, we are drawn to West Midlands Police, recording a downright embarrassing figure of just 4 cat thefts across the second largest population area of just under 3 million. To put that in context alongside the best, statistically we should be expecting a figure of around 44 stolen cats! With their region covering the cities of Coventry, Birmingham and Wolverhampton, is this public or police apathy in the Midlands? We will leave it to you as to whether you to question the integrity of the recording process and whether this is likely to be a true reflection of the number actually reported by the owners to the police.

Aside from the shameful zero returners we have already mentioned, Avon and Somerset Constabulary find themselves caught red-faced at the bottom of the table with just 1 cat theft despite policing the 8th largest area by size of population in England. This covers both the cities of Bristol and Bath. We are throwing the book at these poor performers!

A cat may have nine lives, but are any of them valued as they should be?

There are some important issues highlighted here.


In 2020 those failing to give us data were:

Hampshire Constabulary (Too costly)
North Wales Police (Too costly)
Police Scotland (Too costly)
Staffordshire (Too costly/new data system)
Greater Manchester Police (New data system disabling data retrieval)

There is increasing evidence that some police forces are actually de-prioritising cat theft. In 2020 two further police forces (Staffordshire and Greater Manchester Police) declined to provide any information whatsoever, joining Police Scotland, North Wales, Hampshire and Thames Valley who have opted out in previous years on cost grounds. Take a look at the explanation below put forward by Staffordshire police for their inability to furnish us with cat theft figures:

"...Staffordshire Police are now using a new system to record crime. Data from the old recording system has been brought over to the new system and although the system has structured property fields only property with identifying marks i.e. serial numbers, registration plates etc., will be recorded under these fields." 

The extraction of data relating to stolen cats is therefore not possible, unless of course you have one of those rarer breeds who come with a serial number or a purr-sonalised registration plate! This strikes us as nothing short of absurd. Greater Manchester Police, historically one of the largest issuers of CRNs for stolen cats, have also subscribed to a similar system and in so doing, have disabled their cat theft data retrieval. What does this say about their prioritisation of pet theft if they - and we - are prevented from effectively analysing crime rate trends and outcomes?

This represents yet another reason why specific legislation relating to the theft of pets and companion animals is desperately needed. If pets had their own category under the Theft Act 1968 the police would be obliged to collect and store such data routinely.  


Why cat theft must be taken seriously.

“No one can truly understand the bond we form with the cats we love until they experience the loss of one” – Unknown  

Two years ago we reported on the impact of cat theft on Toni Clarke, when her Siamese cat, Clooney,  was taken during the summer of 2013. It detailed her struggle to convince the police to take her claim of theft seriously. The following is an update to her story and for completeness, the 2019 post follows immediately after. The full, catalogued story can be read here:


Toni Clarke with her stolen Siamese cat
Toni Clarke and stolen Clooney

Update: Clooney at last awarded a CRN! 
Following evidence Clooney had been scanned and details accessed by someone using the unique, confidential logins and PIN codes, traceable to two vet practices, unbelievably, Clooney is still not home. How can this be?

Cat theft is not, and with the law as it stands, cannot be, a budgetary priority to the police. However vital we consider our pets to be with regards to our well-being, their value is simply a cold, heartless calculation on the basis of a replacement. They are merely personal objects under the Theft Act 1968. From the outset of Clooney's case being opened I was brutally informed that the investigation budget would be equal to his perceived monetary value and towards the end of the initial interview, advised that the case would be immediately closed. I could see I had some serious work and persuasion ahead! Under pressure to investigate this promising lead, the vets were contacted but alas, it seems that denial of having any record of Clooney has proved protective: robust and meaningful investigation eats up funds. 

After several challenges to the process and changes to those in charge of his case, thank heavens we now have a sympathetic Inspector from Norfolk Constabulary willing to investigate lines of enquiry. Covid closures have seriously hampered replies and time is not on our side when it comes to a living, feeling, ageing being, but I refuse to take no for an answer! The law needs to recognise emotional distress - we would never search endlessly for a laptop or any other inanimate possession, nor would we have sleepless nights praying they aren't suffering. Pet theft carries endless torment and whilst there is evidence that Clooney was stolen and is waiting to be found, we can't give up. 

We just hope the police don't. 


Taken from Cat Theft Report 2019

Cat theft victim Toni Clarke was devastated when her pet mysteriously disappeared after a courier 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 seriously did the Police take her plea to get her family member back?

"The reaction of the policeman answering my call could only be described as instant, disinterested dismissal, citing a cat’s 'right to roam' and that they were in a separate category due to this 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, putting up posters, 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 no trace of my boy, the response from Norfolk Constabulary was still a heart-sinking and definitive, "No". Unless there was concrete proof, no Crime Reference Number would be issued.

Despite reporting Clooney as a potential victim of pet theft twice to Norfolk Police, he remains unrecorded on their statistics of theft. This is tough to accept. My experience throws a huge question mark over the integrity of police data and their consistency across Forces in recording what people are telling them. Owners' reporting of cat theft is distinct from, and shouldn't be confused with, police recording of pet theft crimes; the figures could paint an entirely different picture as my experience shows."


Does a cat's 'right to roam' give people a right to keep and the police a right to dismiss your claims of theft?

No! Keeping a displaced pet without making reasonable efforts to find the owner is 'Theft by Finding' and you can be charged. If you find yourself engaged in an ownership dispute or feel that you have rational cause to suspect that your cat has been stolen, don't be fobbed off by the police with this commonly-held view.

"As every cat owner knows, nobody owns a cat." Ellen Perry Berkeley

Except in law we do! Cats who wander are legally the property of the original owner.



Are valuable cat breeds being targeted?

Cat Thefts by type



Who steals cats and which breeds are most at risk?

Pedigree cats have been targeted by thieves for breeding or resale if found to be neutered, particularly the breeds that are distinctive and easily identifiable such as Bengal, Siamese and Persian. Given that pedigree kittens can sell for upwards of £500 and pet theft is still largely dealt with in the Magistrates Court with penalties often a small fine at best, it is a low risk, high reward crime. We need changes to the law to protect our precious companions! 

Theft by Finding - a very covert operation.

Cats are stolen for many reasons but in many cases it is 'Theft by Finding, a particularly insidious, invisible and yet often well-meaning criminal offence where someone assumes possession without taking reasonable measures to find the true owner. Whilst it is impossible to quantify the number of cats that are subsumed into local households, it is entirely feasible that our cats may well have increasingly fallen victim to this crime this past year, with cats popping in to say hello or scrounge a little extra side-serving or two and finding the welcome of home workers and the furloughed hard to resist. How many might have been mistaken for strays and encouraged to slip their paws under the table, never to return to their waiting owners? Without compulsory scanning in vets sadly we will never know... 

If you have a cat who is taking up residence in your house and you are not the legitimate owner, please remember that you have a legal obligation to do your best to find the home, including scanning for a microchip as soon as is reasonably practical. Vets will do this for free or organisations may even come out to scan in situ. Consider placing a paper collar on your furry visitor as a first action, alongside door knocking and postering/ advertising on social media.

Ownership disputes can occur if you keep a cat without taking the above steps but beware - the law supports the original owner!

We advise neutering as one of the best ways to protect your pet..

Consider having their tag engraved with ‘neutered’ or ‘spayed’.

The most common stolen cats types



Who are the Forces to be reckoned with when it comes to prosecutions and cautions?

This data is especially important in highlighting which constabularies have taken this crime seriously.

Cat Theft prosecutions and cautions



When it comes to taking cat thieves to court in 2019, despite 431 crimes recorded, there were ZERO prosecutions across any of the forces! Thankfully the 2020 figures tell a more reassuring story with 13 prosecutions in total. However, 11 of these were entirely due to the diligence of the Metropolitan Police bringing these criminals to justice.

There were a further 9 police cautions in 2020.

Just 1.4% of all recorded cat thefts resulted in prosecutions (2015-2020). 

A further 1.7% of cases resulted in a police caution, community resolution or adult restorative intervention (2015-2020).

31 out of 44 forces have failed to prosecute a single case in the last 6 years! 


This looks bleak enough as a deterrent to stealing a cat, but when the figures are analysed for trends it’s been very much a deteriorating picture. In 2015 when our data was first collected, 3.3% of cat thefts resulted in prosecutions, with the following four years seeing a steady decline to a staggering zero in 2019. Despite the Metropolitan police's efforts, we are still not yet back up to the 2015 figure but it is a very encouraging rebound. It has to be said though, once set in the context of an increase in recorded cat theft crimes of 194% over the same period, it's certainly less than impressive.


"Well done to the constabularies who have brought prosecutions. The figures show that just 1.4% of the total of cat thefts resulted in prosecutions. 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 or Missing: Police criteria for recording a crime - is there a uniformity across the forces?

In 2018, we invited all UK police forces to tell us the criteria they use for recording a cat stolen and issuing a CRN as opposed to dismissing it as simply missing. We were curious to discover whether our chances of having our concerns taken seriously was dependent on a police force’s formal policy or whether it could even come down to the personal attitude of the officer. What came back was extremely varied and somewhat perturbing.

Many of the constabularies cited the 'Home Office Counting Rules' on whether or when to record a crime. Essentially, 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.

So far so good, but what does it mean when it comes to the typical ambiguity surrounding the disappearance of a cat? We can only conclude that it seems to us that this was up for individual interpretation:

"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 – might explain their zero return!)

 "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)

This is a fascinating, yet confusing insight. On the surface, Derbyshire boasts perhaps the most liberal and accommodating policy of trust in the owner's beliefs that their cat has been a victim of theft across the forces. Has this been reflected in their recorded cat theft figures? Far from it! Just 5 cat thefts in a six year period, placing them last in the league of cat theft recording figures. 
 
We can probably conclude that geographical location will influence whether your claim for being a victim of cat theft crime will be recorded and given that all-important Crime Reference Number.


Insist on a Crime Reference Number!

Jayne Hayes from DogLost.co.uk
Jayne Hayes
DogLost.co.uk also reunites cats with owners. Their founder Jayne Hayes agrees that some police constabularies might be letting cat owners down by not recording cat theft.

 "We have over 3,000 cats registered with us and have only THREE cats have been issued with a CRN number as stolen!" (2019. Updated figures unavailable)


Pet Theft Awareness suggests that if at first you are refused a CRN. be persistent and insist on getting one. You can register a complaint if your claim is not taken seriously.

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.

Cat Theft Prevention


"More cats are reported missing or stolen year-on-year"

Cats are part of the #PetTheftReform campaign.Wayne May of DogLost 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." (2019. Updated figures not available)

DogLost.co.uk 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, they may be someone’s beloved pet.  Please report to the local animal warden, try to capture them and take to the vet to be scanned for a microchip.  


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. It is clear that the theft of dogs is a major concern, particularly targeting those breeds that are deemed 'fashionable', but thankfully the police and government are being forced to sit up and take notice. And so they should! Dog theft is frequently audacious, overt and more recently, accompanied by an alarming rise in violence. Our canine friends are not legally allowed to wander and therefore theft is largely unambiguous, making it far easier to convince police that a dog who has disappeared is a dog who has been purposefully stolen. Dog theft figures bear witness to this. Cats however, enjoy freedoms that put them at risk of vanishing and herein lies our reason for the suspiciously low cat theft figures. A right to roam is hardly licence for a right to dismiss! We'd like to see all police listening to our individual stories, recording our reports of theft with consistency and uniformity and also to refrain from hiding behind ambiguity of a cat who fails to return home - we know our cats and their habits! Whilst the recorded numbers of stolen cats are but a faint mew in a gathering storm, what is evident is that the trend is very much on the up, nudging a three-fold increase since 2015. In truth, it is difficult to conclude much from the data: whether higher figures are indicating hot spots of cat crime or whether we are looking at police forces who genuinely take cat theft more seriously, but our hope is that by requesting these figures it will prompt better future records and in time, raise the awareness of the theft of our valued feline friends.

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.

"Home is where the cat is"   Anon.

Please mention Pet Theft Awareness or SAMPA if using any content.
Support #PetTheftReform
PetTheft.org.uk
SAMPA: Stolen and Missing Pets Alliance

Compiled by Richard Jordan and Toni Clarke

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