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

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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

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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.

Wrongful Appropriation – Borrowing without Permission

If someone is found to be borrowing property that doesn’t belong to them and does it without the owner’s permission it is known as wrongful appropriation.

Wrongful appropriation

Wrongful Appropriation

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Utah code 76-6-404.5 defines wrongful appropriation as when a person “obtains or exercises unauthorized control over the property of another, without the consent of the owner or legal custodian and with intent to temporarily appropriate, possess, or use the property or to temporarily deprive the owner or legal custodian of possession of the property.”

Borrowing without permission or theft?

Wrongful appropriation may sound a lot like stealing however the keyword that sets it apart from theft is the word “temporarily”. Although many cases of taking another’s belongings is done with the intent of never returning said property, occasionally the person accused of stealing can prove that their intention was to simply borrow the property on a temporary basis. When a person has been determined to not be permanently trying to deprive someone of their property but borrowing property without permission instead, Utah Code 76-6-404.5 states this crime to be “punishable one degree lower than theft.”

Wrongful Appropriation

Photo by: William Murphy

Examples of wrongful appropriation

Borrowing an item without permission may be hard to prove, but there are instances where the temporary intent may be more apparent such as:

• Borrowing a vehicle to quickly run an errand,

• Taking yard care equipment to use temporarily,

• Taking someone’s property as a practical joke, or

• Deviating from an assigned route in a government vehicle for personal motives.

Proving non consent

Sometimes when an item is borrow and relationships between the two parties go sour, the individual loaning the property, in an attempt to stir up trouble, may claim to have not given permission to the other. Having proof of the loan agreement would help protect the borrowing party from being unfairly charged with wrongful appropriation. Unless performed by a business however, a borrower’s agreement isn’t likely; for this reason it is recommended to seek counsel from a defense attorney for any charges of wrongful appropriation, whether true or not.