Your dog may seem like a friend or a member of your family, but in Virginia, pets considered your property. If someone decides to snatch your dog out of the yard, they’ll be charged with theft. The same goes for other stolen animals, both pets and livestock.
Stolen animals are stolen property, and when found the thief will face legal consequences.
Why are Animals Stolen?
In most cases, animals are stolen purely for financial gain. In other words, the robber plans to re-sell the animal to a third party.
There are several popular dog breeds that are often re-sold for a profit. Small breeds like Yorkshire Terriers, Chihuahuas, and French Bulldogs are popular targets, since they are small and easy to sell. Also, larger dogs like Labrador and Golden Retrievers are often stolen because of their popularity and friendly nature.
Unfortunately, strong breeds like Pit Bulls are sometimes stolen as puppies to be used for breeding or to be trained as fighting dogs.
Here are some tips to keep your dog safe, especially if you have one of the most targeted breeds:
- Don’t leave your dog in the yard while you’re gone. Your dog may seem secure in your fence, but if you’re not home, a thief has the perfect opportunity to slip in and take him.
- Avoid tying your dog up in a public place, even if you’ll just be gone a few minutes.
- Microchip your dog. A microchip is a small computer chip (about the size of a grain of rice) that is implanted underneath the dog’s skin. The chip contains the identification of the dog’s owner and is an invaluable tool for locating a lost or stolen dog.
Unless you’re a fox, the motivation for stealing chickens and other livestock is solely for their re-sale value. Chickens left in a coop and ponies left grazing in a field can be easy pickings for a thief.
Historically, thieves have gotten away with stealing more than a couple of chickens. Thirty head of cattle waiting for auction in a populated Virginia stockyard were stolen in Roanoke in 2011. The cattle thieves made off with $11,000 worth of Black Angus and Holstein cattle.
In 2013, an Ashland, Virginia petting zoo had over 30 animals stolen from its pens overnight. The animals had value, but they were also beloved pets that had been enjoyed by thousands of visitors just that year. Some zoos across the country have put in extra security measures for their most exotic and valuable animals to deter possible animal theft.
Whether the animals provide entertainment or sustenance, theft of livestock or zoo animals is treated as a serious matter in Virginia.
Punishment for Animal Theft
As with most property, the punishment in Virginia for stolen animals mostly depends on the animal’s value.
Code 18.2-97 of Virginia law states that larceny of any animal in Virginia will be classified as a felony. What type of felony, however, depends on the cost of the animal itself.
Class 5 Felony
The theft of a dog, horse, mule, cow, steer, bull or calf is always treated as a class 5 felony. This is because these animals are usually valued at over $200. The punishment for a class 5 felony can be anywhere from 1 to 10 years in prison.
Class 6 felony
Larceny of poultry or other livestock worth less than $200 is a class 6 felony. This usually includes pigs, sheep, lambs and goats. A class 6 felony carries a punishment of 1 to 5 years in prison.
Class 5 and 6 are the least serious of the felony classes, but they are still felonies. Not only does the burglar face jail time, but their conviction will also go on their permanent criminal record. In addition, their crime will show up on background checks, and will have to be listed on job applications.
What to do if your Animal is Stolen
If you have your pet or livestock stolen, here are some steps you can take to find the thief and hopefully get your stolen animals back:
- Call the police. You’ll want to create a record of the details of the theft.
- Get the word out. Post flyers and call your local TV news station, newspaper, or radio station to report the missing animal. The more people that are looking out for it, the better.
- Check shelters and rescue organizations. Sometimes a thief gets cold feet and decides to dump the animal and run.
What to do if you are Charged with Animal Theft
If you have been charged with stealing an animal, the first and most important step is to get a lawyer.
Any time you are charged with a criminal offense, especially a felony, you’ll want an experienced criminal lawyer to help you. You need advice and expertise that only an attorney can provide.
It is also important to protect yourself from false charges of animal theft. If you are buying an animal, make sure to document the transaction with a bill of sale or a receipt. If you are transporting animals for another person, or even pet sitting, get a letter or document authorizing you to care for or transport the animals. Taking simple precautions will help protect you against false accusations later on.
Animal theft is sadly quite common in Virginia, but it should never be taken lightly. It is a serious crime and will always result in a class 5 or class 6 felony charge. These charges must be taken seriously and dealt with immediately.
Always inform the police if your animal has been stolen, take precautions against false accusations, and consult a lawyer if you are charged with the theft of an animal.