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.

Reckless burning vs Arson in Utah

Authorities are searching for information on the persons responsible for causing the wildfires that are tearing through Utah presently, but will those responsibility end up facing reckless burning or arson charges? What is the difference?

6,000 acres and counting

Photo by: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services

The skies of southern and northeastern Utah are full of smoke as wildfires burn through nearly 6,000 acres of land. The Mackshaft fire that is 25% contained and has already consumed 2,453 acres of land is located southeast of Vernal near the city of Bonanza. The cause of that fire is still under investigation according to Utahfireinfo.gov. The Brian Head Fire located in very close proximity to the resort town of Brian Head, Utah east of Cedar City has been determined to be human caused. That fire has burned 2,761 acres of land so far and is being further fueled by hot, dry winds. The Brian Head Fire is currently at only 15% containment.

Fire rules and restrictions

With wildfire season upon us, strict rules are in place regarding when and where fires are permitted. Wildfires are more common during the hot, dry months of summer and by limiting the number of human caused fires during this time, fire officials can focus their energy and resources on naturally caused fires instead. When a human caused fire does occur, those individuals responsible may be expected to reimburse the state for the costs associated with controlling and extinguishing the fire. Additionally, they may face criminal charges for either reckless burning or arson. This depends on many factors including whether or not the fire was accidental or intentional and the cost of the total damage.

Reckless burning

Reckless Burning vs Arson

Photo by: Denis Dervisevic

Utah Code 76-6-104 discusses reckless burning and the penalties associated with charges. It states:

“(1) A person is guilty of reckless burning if the person:
(a) recklessly starts a fire or causes an explosion which endangers human life;
(b) having started a fire, whether recklessly or not, and knowing that it is spreading and will endanger the life or property of another, either fails to take reasonable measures to put out or control the fire or fails to give a prompt fire alarm;
(c) builds or maintains a fire without taking reasonable steps to remove all flammable materials surrounding the site of the fire as necessary to prevent the fire’s spread or escape; or
(d) damages the property of another by reckless use of fire or causing an explosion.
(2)
(a) A violation of Subsection (1)(a) or (b) is a class A misdemeanor.
(b) A violation of Subsection (1)(c) is a class B misdemeanor.
(c) A violation of Subsection (1)(d) is:
(i) a class A misdemeanor if damage to property is or exceeds $1,500 in value;
(ii) a class B misdemeanor if the damage to property is or exceeds $500 but is less than $1,500 in value; and
(iii) a class C misdemeanor if the damage to property is or exceeds $150 but is less than $500 in value.
(d) Any other violation under Subsection (1)(d) is an infraction.

Arson

Arson charges are much more severe than reckless burning as it involves intent or criminal activity leading up to the event. Arson charges usually arise when someone sets fire to the property of another such as a home or vehicle, however wildfires that are started intentionally have the potential to cause structural damage as well. According to Utah Code 76-6-102:
“(1) A person is guilty of arson if, under circumstances not amounting to aggravated arson, the
person by means of fire or explosives unlawfully and intentionally damages:
(a) any property with intention of defrauding an insurer; or
(b) the property of another.
Depending on value of the damage and whether or not injuries occurred as a result of the violation, charges for arson can range from a class B misdemeanor to a second degree felony.

Criminal Defense

Anyone facing charges for accidentally starting a fire (reckless burning) or intentionally starting a fire (arson) should immediately seek counsel with a reputable criminal defense attorney.

Licensing Required for “Almost Massage” Businesses in Utah

Alternative healing is growing in popularity and businesses that offer their customers any services that could be seen as “almost massage” are required to have proper licensing.

“Almost Massage”

Almost Massage

Photo by: alfonso.saborido

With consumers seeking natural methods of healing, many businesses offering alternative medicine are popping up with techniques that are could be seen as “almost massage”. One of these  techniques is known as Reiki which originated in Japan and is an alternative medicine used to balance the flow of a person’s life energy. During a Reiki session, the person administering it hovers their hands above the other person’s body or lightly touches the body, waiting a few seconds per possession to allow the energy to flow. The claim is the flow of energy is what heals and relaxes.

Prostitution stings

Utah has been inundated lately with illegal activities taking place at local massage parlors.  Massage parlors aren’t the only businesses where sexual solicitation is taking place. Unfortunately, there are some businesses who have used natural healing such as a Reiki as a façade for illegal prostitution activities. In an attempt to rid Utah of prostitution hiding behind massage businesses, the law regarding massage licensing has been changes to include all types of massage. Although Reiki and other “almost massage” businesses do not involve soft-tissue massage or sometimes even direct touch, they are now required to be licensed according to Utah law.

Utah law revised

The Massage Therapy Practice Act of Utah was revised in 2012 with HB114. Now, according to Utah Code 58-47B-102, any person or businesses that practices any form of massage must be licensed. This includes those who manipulate soft-tissue and others who are “providing, offering, or advertising a paid service using the term massage or a derivative of the word massage, regardless of whether the service includes physical contact.” Although this revised law has been in place for over five years, it continues to catch individuals and businesses by surprise. The charge for someone practicing any form of massage without a license is a class A misdemeanor; this charge carries worse penalties than the class B misdemeanor a person can receive for prostitution.  For anyone who is facing criminal charges for prostitution or practicing “almost massage” without a license, contact a criminal defense attorney today.