Theft of Pets in Utah

Theft of pets are on the rise in Utah and many residents are inquiring what the laws are regarding stealing someone else’s companion animal.

Pets are property

Photo by: Sue Salisbury

Most people that own pets will say their fur-babies are family. According to Utah law however, pets are not children; they are considered property instead. Stealing a pet is not kidnapping or dognapping- it is theft. Theft of property such as a dog, cat, bike, or DVD player is punishable depending on the value of the property. Although pet owners would say it is impossible to put a dollar amount on a pet, many animals were either purchased or adopted for a fee which could be used to determine a monetary amount.

Monetary Value

Photo by: Amy Gahran

Domesticated pets such as small mammals and cats do not have a high monetary value but purebred dogs and specialty or exotic animals can range greatly in price and value. Birds such as large Cockatoos and Macaws can be worth thousands of dollars while purebred dogs can vary from $300 to as much as $14,000 depending on the type of dog, their lineage, and whether or not they come with papers. The punishment for theft of a pet depends on what that animal is worth. According to Utah Code 76-6-412:

• If the value of the pet is less than $500, the dog thief may face class B misdemeanor charges;
• If the pet is worth more than $500 but less than $1,500, it is a class A misdemeanor;
• Theft of a pet valued at more than $1,500 but less than $5,000 is a third degree felony;
• Stealing pricey animals that exceed the monetary value of $5,000 can result in second degree felonies.

These charges are enhanced if the offender has prior offenses related to theft, burglary, or robbery.

Reason for stealing an animal

Photo by: liz west

The majority of pet thefts occur for the purpose of making a dishonest profit by reselling the animal, however there are other reasons for stealing pets that could result in separate charges.

• Waiting for the reward. Many times when a pet goes missing, the family will offer a reward for the safe return of their furry family member. Some pets are stolen and then given back to the family once the reward is offered. Even if the plan is to return to pet, it is still considered theft or perhaps wrongful appropriation which is punishable one degree lower than theft according to Utah Code 76-6-404.5.

• Relocating a neighbor’s pet. Some pet thefts occur from a disgruntled neighbor getting rid of a nuance animal.There have been cases throughout Utah of animals being stolen and dropped off in remote areas or even let out of a fenced yard. Stealing a pet to abandon it or releasing it on the street could constitute cruelty to animals if the animal is left in what section 76-9-301 states to be a “situation where conditions present an immediate, direct, and serious threat to the life, safety, or health of the animal.” Charges for intentional abandonment of an animal can range from a class C to class B misdemeanor.

Photo by: Stacy

• Fighting dogs. Sadly, some breeds that get a bad rap for being prone to dog aggression are often stolen based on that natural tendency. Pit bulls which are quickly becoming a beloved pet among families also have a history of violence towards other dogs and people if they are treated or raised poorly. This breed is known for being powerful while doing a lot of damage when they do attack and that may be why they are so popular in the illegal dog fighting ring. If dogs are stolen for use in dog fighting, the charges can include theft as well as third degree felony charge for training or causing a dog to fight as stated in Utah Code 76-9-301.1.

Missing or stolen

While there is an uptick of pet thefts throughout Utah, there are also many animals that go missing without any human involvement. Missing pets should be reported to animal control and posted on flyers as well as social media sources to get the word around. If someone truly feels their pet has been stolen, the owner should notify the authorities while also keeping an eye on resale sights such as Craigslist and Facebook yard sale sights. For anyone charged with stealing a pet whether to make a quick buck, get back at a neighbor, or commit another crime involving the pet, it is important to speak to an attorney about the charges prior to admitting fault to police.

Animal Cruelty and other Crimes against Pets in Utah

Many Utah residents love their fur babies as if they were part of their family and are horrified when crimes against pets such as animal cruelty occur.

Torture of a companion animal

Animal Cruelty

Photo by: Matt Deavenport

A Provo, Utah man was recently convicted of torture of a companion animal after he sought out, purchased, tortured, and killed nearly a dozen kittens. 26 year old Gene Bairschmidt appeared unmoved following his sentencing of third degree animal cruelty; a charge punishable by up to five years in prison. Bairschmidt’s lack of emotion as well as his intentional torture of a companion animal was disturbing and likely indicated he was suffering from one or more psychiatric disorders.


Another Utah resident was charged with animal cruelty recently after she haphazardly scattered a dangerous poison around her unfenced property, resulting in the death of a neighbor’s puppy. 68 year old Nina Bennett of Summit Park was not intentionally out to hurt the young dog, but was irresponsible in her application of strychnine poisoning used for pest control. The owner of the puppy pressed charges and Bennett was charged with aggravated animal cruelty, a class B misdemeanor. She was sentenced up to six months in jail.


Another saddening form of animal cruelty is animal fighting. Animal fighting is when two or more animals are encouraged or trained to fight one another for entertainment or gambling purposes. Although other animals can also be bred and used for fighting purposes, dogs and roosters (cocks) are the most popular in the ring. Game dogs or cocks are usually kept in deplorable circumstances with frequent abuse, resulting in them being aggressive and ready for battle. Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah cares for several animals that are rescued from inhumane circumstance such as dog fighting rings. Many of the animals rescued from fighting rings have withstood such extensive abuse that they are unable to be adopted and will permanently reside at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary.

Animal cruelty

Photo by: tanjila ahmed

Photo by: tanjila ahmed

While torture of a companion animal, poisoning of pets and wildlife, as well as animal fighting may be obvious forms of animal cruelty, there are other actions and behavior that can result in similar charges. Utah Code 76-9-301 lists the other various conducts which can result in animal cruelty charges such:

Lack of adequate shelter or protection against “extreme weather conditions”. A simple dog house in below freezing temperatures is cruel and may result in criminal charges. Local animal control officers can instruct Utah residents on how to give their animals proper shelter if the pets are unable to be housed indoors.

Animal abandonment. If an animal is no longer wanted or if the owners are unable to keep their pet, there are several rescue groups throughout Utah willing to take them in. Dropping a pet off on the side of the road and driving away is not the way to relinquish parental pet rights and can result in animal cruelty charges.

Failure to provide necessary food and water. If an animal is in a person’s custody, which Utah Code defines to mean “ownership, possession, or control over an animal”, that person is responsible for providing “appropriate and essential food and water”. Forgetting, being busy, or being unable to feed an animal due to financial difficulties are not valid excuses for not feeding a pet. Failure to provide food and water as well as animal abandonment , lack of shelter, animal fighting, and inflicting injuries can result in a class B misdemeanor or class C misdemeanor, depending on whether or not the abuse was intentional or just reckless.

Killing an animal “without having a legal privilege to do so”. Slaying an animal for reasons such as trespassing or annoyance is not permitted unless the resident feels that they, their family, or their pet’s life is in immediate danger. Aggressive or nuisance animals should simply be reported to animal control to handle. Killing an animal is considered aggravated animal cruelty, the same as torture and poisoning. Aggravated animal cruelty penalties range from a class C misdemeanor to a class A misdemeanor, depending on intention and negligence.

Protected pets

All animals, whether domesticated or wild are protected in Utah under various rulings such as animal cruelty laws, animal husbandry laws, and even hunting and fishing regulations. For anyone facing charges for animal cruelty or other crimes against pets and other wildlife, consult with a criminal defense attorney.

Killing Protected Animals in Utah

There are several species of protected animals that can be found in Utah and  killing any can result in state or federal charges.

Protection for all

Photo by: Ben Johnson

Photo by: Ben Johnson

All creatures, whether wild or domesticated, are protected from torture or other non-humane acts under Utah Code 76-9-301 which defines specific crimes related to animal cruelty. This law ensures that no animal suffers unwarranted pain and suffering and that domesticated animals are properly cared for and supplied with the necessities of life they require. Domesticated animals can include companion pets such dogs and cats and also farmed animals like swine and cattle. Cattle and other livestock are protected under this law yet can be bred and raised for the sole purpose of killing them for meat and other products destined for human consumption and use.

Hunting wild animals

Photo: m01229

Photo: m01229

Livestock are not the only animals with targets on them. Although Utah Code 23-13-3 declared that “all wildlife existing within this state, not held by private ownership and legally acquired, is the property of the state”, hunting is permitted as long as appropriate licensing and permits are acquired. There are numerous types of wild animals in Utah that can be hunted for sport such as rabbits, squirrel, duck, and fish. These are legal to hunt as long as the shooter has a current hunting and/or fishing license. Other wild animals including deer, elk, turkey, and cougar require additional permits and are only able to be killed during set seasons. In addition to taking home a stuffed trophy or game meat, killing of some animals brings a cash reward. This is the case in Utah for coyotes that have caused extensive damage to livestock and the mule deer population. According to Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, “The DWR predator-control program provides incentives for hunters to remove coyotes. Participants receive $50 for each properly documented coyote that they kill in Utah.”

Endangered Species Act

Not all wild animals are permitted to be hunted. Any animals listed as endangered or threatened are protected by either state or federal laws. The Endangered Species Act was passed in the early 70’s to protect species which are threatened with extinction and their habitats in which they dwell. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stated in a list reported in early 2015 that there are nearly twenty endangered or threatened animals commonly found in Utah including: the Utah prairie dog, the desert tortoise, the gray wolf, and bald or golden eagles. They warn that it is illegal “to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect or attempt to engage in any such conduct” with any animal listed on the ESA. Those found guilty of intentional killing or “taking” any protected animals will be fined up to $50,000 and/or a year imprisoned.

Accidental killing of protected animals

Protected animals

Photo by: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Although purposely or negligently killing protected animals is likely to be followed by charges, anyone who unintentionally kills or injures an endangered animal may not face criminal penalties. Two different instances have occurred in Utah since late 2014 that resulted in the deaths of protected gray wolves. Both happened at the hands of hunters; One by accidental shooting while mistaking the wolf for a coyote and the other when the animal became trapped in a cougar snare. Both hunters were found not guilty as it was not their intention to harm the protected animals and they reported it immediately to authorities.

Report from a distance

If a protected animal has been killed unintentionally or found deceased it is important to stay clear from the carcass in case poisons were used or if a disease is present. Additionally it is imperative to never remove any part of the animal’s remains as that alone can bring criminal charges. Anyone in possession of protected animal remains such a bald eagle feather will be charged extensively by state or federal laws. For more information on state or federal laws regarding wildlife or to report the death of a protected animal notify the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. For legal counsel regarding charges contact a criminal defense attorney.