The Alarming State Of Stolen Dog Laws & How To Prevent

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Two dogs behind a fenceDo you often leave your dog unattended in your yard? If so, you’re unknowingly giving dog thieves an open invitation. Dog theft has been on the rise for several years now.

What laws are in place to punish pet thieves? How can you keep your pet safe? What do you do if you think someone stole your pet? We’ll answer these questions and more.

Article Overview

How Prevalent Is Dog Theft?

An estimated two million domestic animals are victims of dog theft each year in the U.S., and, unfortunately, only about 10% of owners recover their dogs. Why do dogs get stolen in the first place, and what breeds are most at risk?

Why Steal A Dog?

What are the main reasons thieves steal dogs? Money is the driving force. Most dogs are stolen by dog flippers: people who realize the high monetary value of specific breeds and can re-sell them as pets for a significant profit.

Some thieves steal dogs to sell them to illegal fighting rings and training methods, or they sell them for medical research purposes.

Top 10 Most Stolen Dog Breeds

The majority of thefts involve purebreds. Here are the 10 most commonly stolen dog breeds. Thieves steal these breeds for their $2,000+ re-sale value — the exception being American Pit Bulls, which people often take for illegal fighting purposes. 1

  1. Yorkshire Terrier
  2. Pomeranian
  3. Maltese
  4. Boston Terrier
  5. French Bulldog
  6. Chihuahua
  7. Labradoodle
  8. American Pit Bull Terrier
  9. German Shepherd
  10. Labrador Retriever

Even if your dog is not on the most stolen breed list, you may want to review these other expensive dog breeds that may draw unwanted attention from thieves.

Stolen Dog Laws

Although 91% of pet parents consider dogs as members of their family, most state laws don’t agree. You may have heard the term “dognapping,” but it’s misleading from a legal standpoint.

Kidnapping a person is a severe criminal offense, but in the law’s eyes dogs aren’t considered kidnapped when stolen. Why? A majority of states don’t even have specific stolen pet laws. Dogs, instead, are seen as personal property.

That’s why pet theft most often falls under a state’s general theft and larceny laws. In these states, stealing a pet isn’t distinguished in any way from taking a tv, jewelry or other possessions.

States That Have Stolen Dog Laws

Only 15 states specifically address the theft of dogs in their criminal codes. These include:

  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
  15. West Virginia

Legal Penalties For Dog Theft

What are the charges for stealing a dog? Criminal charges and penalties vary widely by state, even in those that have specific criminal codes for dog theft. Most states consider pet theft a misdemeanor, and the penalties include relatively small fines and little to no jail time.

Some states, like California and Louisiana, impose different charges and penalties based on the monetary value of the stolen dog.

A select few states, however, have stepped up their laws with more severe charges and penalties.

Top 5 States With The Best Stolen Dog Laws

We’ve done extensive research into each state that has specific stolen dog statutes. Based on this analysis, here’s our list of the top five states with the most severe dog theft criminal statutes and penalties.2

Map of Top 5 States With The Best Stolen Dog Laws

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1. Virginia

In Virginia, stealing a dog is a Class 5 felony, punishable by up to 10 years in jail, regardless of the monetary value of the dog.

2. Louisiana

Louisiana is one of the states that separates dog theft charges by the value of your dog, but their penalties are harsher than many other states.

If the stolen dog is worth $500 or more, you can be imprisoned, with or without hard labor, for up to 10 years, or be fined up to $3,000 (or both). If the stolen dog is worth less than $500, you could still face a stiff fine and imprisonment but less so than for higher value pets.

3. Oklahoma

If you’re found guilty of stealing a dog in Oklahoma, you face a felony conviction with a punishment of confinement in the state penitentiary for a term not less than 6 months or up to 3 years.

You can also face a fine that is equal to three times the value of the animal you stole (up to $500,000).

4. New York

In New York state, stealing a dog is a class E felony that could land you in jail for up to 6 months. In 2014, New York raised its fine for dog theft from $200 to $1,000, regardless of the dog’s monetary value.

5. Mississippi

If you’re found guilty of dog theft in Mississippi, it’s a felony punishable by a fine of not more than $ 500, or imprisonment in the county jail for not more than 6 months, or both.

How Do I Protect My Dog From Theft?

Here are some tips to help you keep your dog safe from thieves.3

Pet Theft Awareness

Educate yourself about the riskiest situations. Dogs left unattended are more vulnerable to pet theft. Don’t leave your pet alone in your yard or your car or tie them up outside of a store while you go inside.

National Pet Theft Awareness Day is February 14th each year, which helps to raise awareness on a national scale.

Proof Of Ownership

Make sure you have current documentation that proves you own your dog. These include adoption papers, licensing documents, veterinary records, proofs of purchase for animal care supplies and recent identifying photographs.

Keep Tags Updated

Make sure you update your dog’s collars and ID tags with your current phone number and other contact details. If you recently moved, make sure you update this important accessory immediately.

Get Your Dog Microchipped

Most animal shelters or veterinary clinics can microchip your dog. If you’re on a tight budget, look for free or low-cost microchip opportunities that your local shelters, rescue groups, and other organizations  hold.

A key component to microchipping is to register the chip with the manufacturer’s registry, as well as universal microchip registries, like Michelson Found Animals’ registry.

You also must update your contact information with these registries if you move or change your phone number.

Someone Stole My Dog: What Can I Do?

If you suspect that someone stole your dog, it’s critical to take the following steps immediately:3

1. File A Police Report

Call the police and animal control in the area where your pet disappeared and be sure to file an official police report. However, don’t stop there with your efforts. A stolen dog is likely a low priority for your local authorities.

2. Post Your Dog’s Microchip Number

If your dog has a microchip, ask to have their unique serial number, along with the dog’s description, posted in the “stolen article” category on the National Crime Information Center.

3. Canvass The Area

Since stolen pets are usually a low priority for police, you should do the investigative legwork. Talk to people in the immediate vicinity where your pet went missing. You never know who may have witnessed the actual theft or seen your lost dog.

4. Distribute Flyers

Always make sure you have a recent photo of your pet so you can quickly make flyers if they go missing. Post your flyers around your neighborhood, on social media and local websites to get as much visibility as possible.

5. Search For Sale Ads

Your stolen dog might end up on a local for-sale ad online if taken by a dog flipper. Check your local message boards and for-sale ads.

6. Check Local Animal Shelters

Dog flippers may leave your dog at an animal shelter if they realize selling it is not a lucrative option. It’s always a good idea to visit your local shelter in person to see if your stolen pet is there.

7. Contact The Media

Call or email your local TV station, radio station and newspaper and request that they place a post on their website about your missing pet. Here’s a local story in Tulsa, OK, about how one man was able to get his story out to hopefully recover his stolen Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.

How Can I Track My Lost Or Stolen Dog?

Another measure you can take to recover your dog is to invest in a dog collar GPS tracking device like Whistle. See our Whistle review to learn more. However, if the collar is removed, you will not be able to track the location.

Video: Stolen Dog Laws

Watch and share this one-minute video we created to help spread awareness about dog theft prevention.

How Can I Keep An Eye On Thieves?

Don’t assume that your home is safe from pet theft. Some burglars will enter your residence to steal a valuable dog. How can you protect your pup — and your home?

Be sure to check out our reviews of the best doggie cameras, which include WiFi cameras with live-streaming video, to find out which would be best to install in your home.

Why are you concerned about someone stealing your dog?

Sources: [1] iHeartDogs; [2] Michigan State University College of Law ; [3] Animal Legal Defense Fund

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Sally holds a BA in English from James Madison University and began her 25-year writing career as a grad student at the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Journalism & Mass Communications. She’s been a pet parent since college years (and spent her whole childhood with pets).

Now as a parent of two teenagers, she’s made sure to raise her daughters to learn how to love and care for pets (and other animals) in the most responsible and loving ways. As a result, she and her daughters now have 5 rescued dogs and cats who essentially rule their home! Sally has also volunteered over the years to help raise funds for various animal nonprofit organizations.

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anthony tedesco
My dogs where stolen out of my home before Xmas 2018. By ex disgruntled employees! i live in Irving Texas. My Bulldog has been found and is chipped but the person who has him will not surrender him back I even offered a HUGE reward!! What are the laws and Police will do nothing saying it is a CIVIL matter. Elvis is a English Bulldog pure breed Ive posted every where found the ad where he was sold on facebook to for 750 please any and all help!!!
Terry Fletcher
This is not accurate. Oregon includes ALL ANIMALS under ORS 164.055 Felony Theft. This has been true for years. The felony theft law includes wild, domestic and companion. We define companion animals as any pet. Value of animal is not even a consideration since all animals have had “special value” under the law for almost 100 years in Oregon. Police do charge pet thieves with felony theft. While all laws come with stated penalties, most states have “sentencing guidelines” that are considered by judges. Someone’s first felony may or may not result in any jail time. I think that sentencing guidelines were not mentioned or considered in this blog.
Michelle Schenker (Admin)
We were recently asked to research laws related to dognapping and catnapping in Wisconsin. Here’s what we found:

The law against animal theft in Wisconsin is included in Chapter 951.03’s Crime Against Animals statue. It states that, “No person may take the dog or cat of another from one place to another without the owner’s consent or cause such a dog or cat to be confined or carried out of this state or held for any purpose without the owner’s consent. This section does not apply to law enforcement officers or humane officers engaged in the exercise of their official duties.”

Unfortunately, this law does not define any penalties for such crimes and it allows much room for interpretation in the courts, reducing the perceived risk associated with such crimes in this state. In states that lack defined penalties, it is harder to deter pet theft.

Note: Chapter 951 Crime Against Animals statue was updated in 2017 and was set to be reviewed again on January 17, 2019 (could find no reports on whether this happened/if updates were made at this time). Source: