The Penalty for Dognapping

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 What Is Dognapping?

In order to understand the crime of dognapping or dog kidnapping, one must first understand the general crime of theft. In legal terms, theft is the generic term for crimes in which one person intentionally takes the property of another individual, without the original owner’s permission or consent, coupled with the intent to convert the property for their own use.

Specifically, dognapping is a specific theft crime that involves the act of intentionally taking a dog without the owner’s consent. Dognapping has become an increasingly common crime within the United States, with estimates from the American Kennel Club noting that criminal dognapping cases have gone up seventy percent since 2010. In fact, there are over two million dognapping cases each year in the United States, with only a small percentage of owners recovering their dogs.

It is important to note that although many people think of their pets as family members, the law does not agree with that classification. Although the term dog kidnapping is used, there are major differences in the eyes of the law between taking a dog and taking a person. Kidnapping a person is a severe criminal offense that is charged as a felony.

As of 2022, there are only 15 states that have specific stolen dog laws in their criminal codes:

  1. California;
  2. Connecticut;
  3. Delaware;
  4. Louisiana;
  5. Michigan;
  6. Mississippi;
  7. New Hampshire;
  8. New York;
  9. North Carolina;
  10. Oklahoma;
  11. Rhode Island;
  12. Virginia;
  13. Texas;
  14. Washington; and
  15. West Virginia.

As can be seen, most states don’t even have stolen dog laws or criminal statutes that address dognapping. Instead, dogs are seen as personal property, with the theft thereof being considered to be a form of general theft and larceny. It is important to note that with the rise of dognapping across the United States, many more states are in the process of developing specific stolen dog laws. However, the laws that are developed will almost always mirror the larceny laws of the state.

Larceny is a specific type of theft crime. Larceny is defined as an illegal taking of another person’s property with an intent to permanently deprive the lawful owner of the property. As can be seen, this often matches the legal elements required to be convicted of dognapping in states that do have stolen dog laws. In essence, in order to be convicted of larceny or dog theft it must be proven that:

  1. A person took another person’s property, i.e. their dog;
  2. The person that took the property did not otherwise have permission to do so; and
  3. The person had the intent to permanently deprive the actual owner of the property, i.e. the dog.

What Are the Charges and Penalties for Stealing a Dog or Dognapping?

Once again, charges for stealing a dog will typically mirror charges for larceny. Similarly, the penalty for stealing a dog will also mirror the state criminal larceny statutes. As such, dognapping typically results in a misdemeanor charge, which is punishable by a small fine, such as $500, a short time in jail, typically less than one year, or a combination of both. However, the charges for dognapping may increase based on the cost of the goods or property that was stolen.

For example, if the person stole a purebred dog that had a significant value, then their dognapping charge may be instead charged as grand theft. The legal penalties for grand theft are typically large fines, typically $10,000 or more, incarceration for at least one year in a federal prison, or a combination of both.

How Are Dognapping Charges Proven?

Once again, in order for a person to be convicted for dognapping, or in most cases larceny, all of the criminal legal elements of proof must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt by the criminal prosecutor. As such, in order to charge someone with the crime of larceny, the state prosecution must prove the following criminal elements of larceny, beyond a reasonable doubt:

  1. That the alleged dognapper removed the dog from the rightful owner, without the owner’s consent;
  2. That the dog was actually carried away from the rightful owner; and
  3. That the alleged dognapper intended to steal the dog, with an intent to permanently deprive the lawful owner of the property.

There is numerous evidence that may come into play when the prosecution attempts to prove the above criminal elements. For example, evidence that the person sold the dog to another person is likely enough to convict that person of dognapping. Other examples of evidence that may be introduced could include:

  • Testimony from the alleged dognapper that they believed the dog was lost and intended to turn them over to the shelter and not to deprive the dog from its rightful owner;
  • Testimony from any witnesses to the act that saw the person walk off with the dog;
  • Security camera footage that shows the person breaking into a secured fence or location to take the dog;
  • Evidence that there was a forced entry by the person that took the dog; and/or
  • Any evidence of a sale or proposed sale of the animal.

Are There Any Defenses for Dognapping?

As noted above, in order to be convicted of dognapping, each and every criminal element of the crime must be proven by the prosecution beyond a reasonable doubt. As such, any evidence that tends to attack one of the legal elements of the crime will serve as a legal defense to being convicted of the crime of dognapping.

A person that has been charged for dognapping may also assert a variety of other affirmative defenses in order to have the charges brought against them either dismissed completely or lessened. One of the most important elements of the crime of dognapping is the intent element.

The state prosecution must prove that the individual that took the dog had the criminal intent to deprive the rightful owner of that dog. This means that simply walking away with another person’s dog is not enough to convict them of dognapping, as in that situation there is no criminal intent present. Further, walking away with the dog with the intent to find its owner is also not enough to convict them.

Examples of other common legal defenses that may have the charges brought against an individual dismissed include:

  • The individual had the owner’s permission to take the dog;
  • The individual was mistaken as to the rightful owner of the dog, or believed the dog had been abandoned; and/or
  • The individual was taking possession of the dog with the intent to find its rightful owner.

Do I Need a Criminal Lawyer?

If you have been accused of the crime of dognapping, it is in your best interest to immediately consult with an experienced and local criminal lawyer. An experienced and local criminal defense attorney will be best suited to helping you understand your legal rights and options according to your state’s laws.

An experienced criminal lawyer will be able to help you build your best legal defense, and help you assert any affirmative defenses that may be available in your case. Additionally, an attorney will also be able to help you negotiate with the prosecution in order to have the charges brought against you dismissed, if possible. Additionally, an experienced criminal attorney will also be able to represent you at any in person criminal proceedings.

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