A SOUTHEND MP's Bill aiming to create a new criminal offence for the theft of  pets has taken a big step forward. 

Southend West MP, Anna Firth, introduced the Bill for its second reading today in the Commons where it received cross-party support and will now move on to the committee stage where it will face more scrutiny. 

The Bill, named the Pet Abduction Bill, aims to have a law introduced which will see pets classified as "more than just items of property, and instead as sentient beings". 

It is already a criminal offence to steal a pet, with a maximum jail term of seven years for those convicted.

However, campaigners believe pet abduction should be a named offence with greater powers of sentence.

Ms Firth was inspired to take up the cause after hearing the story of Ann Cushion, founder of south Essex based missing-pet group Tilly’s Angels, who had her four rescue dogs stolen in 2021.

Thankfully all four of her dogs were returned to her.

Ms Firth said: “I am absolutely delighted that the pet abduction bill has passed its second reading and will move onto committee stage.

“As a nation of pet-lovers, it is vital that the law recognises the emotional impact the theft of a pet can have and brings the perpetrators to justice in a way that correctly reflects this.

“Pets are not merely items in our lives, they are sentient beings, and it is not right that the law does not distinguish this.

“My thanks to Debbie Matthews, Pet Theft Alliance, Tilly’s Angels, the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation and Cats Protection, the Dogs Trust, Battersea Cats and Dogs Home, Refuge and Pet Theft Awareness, all of whom have provided invaluable insight on the Bill.

“I look forward to the Bill progressing through Committee stage,” Ms Firth said.

Debbie Matthews, of Pet Theft Alliance, said: “I’ve been campaigning since 2006, when my own two dogs were stolen.

“I was one of the lucky ones and got both of my dogs back home, because of publicity around my famous father, the late TV entertainer Bruce Forsyth, but the experience was so devastating I have continued to campaign to help other victims of this cruel crime, to make Pet Theft a specific criminal offence, moving them from ‘other items’ in the Theft Act and asking the veterinary profession to check microchip registration at first treatment.

“Pet theft is a crime that strikes at the heart of the family.

“Horrifically, one man died last year, and another was stabbed while protecting their dogs, pet theft continues and causes constant anxiety for the public.”

Steve Barclay, secretary of state for DEFRA, said: "As a dog owner myself, I appreciate deeply what treasured members of the family pets are.

"It is a deeply traumatic experience for both the owner and the pet when they are stolen.

"This vital Bill will introduce tougher punishments to recognise the severity of this shocking crime and should act as a deterrent to anyone considering stealing a pet.

"We will do all we can to support its swift passage through Parliament," Mr Barclay said.