What Is the Punishment for Stealing a Dog in Texas?

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Some two million dogs are stolen every year in the United States. Most pet owners consider dogs as members of their family and view pet theft as an extremely serious offense. But state laws about theft of dogs don't generally reflect that concern.

In most states, larceny laws regarding stealing a dog are the same as stealing personal property, like a bicycle or a jacket, with the severity of the crime depending on the market value of the merchandise. This is the case in Texas. The fact that a dog can be a beloved companion and a best friend does not change the law or increase punishment for dog theft convictions.

Why Steal a Dog?

Some call dog theft "dognapping," reflecting the outrage of having a beloved dog kidnapped from a loving family. But, in Texas, dognapping laws have little or no relationship to the serious felony treatment accorded kidnapping.

Although stolen dog cases are increasing, the criminal sanctions for stolen pets are not. In most states, stealing a dog is a civil matter or a criminal misdemeanor. The seriousness with which law enforcement treats the crime goes up as the market value of the dog increases.

Purebreds Are More Often Stolen From Dog Owners

This "dog as merchandise" mentality in the criminal laws is reflected in the crimes themselves. Very few beloved mixed breed dogs are stolen by strangers.

Generally, thieves are selecting high-cost breeds that can be "flipped" for thousands of dollars on the internet, such as French bulldogs, Yorkshire terriers and Pomeranians. Those involved in illicit dogfighting operations might steal dogs to use for fighting, and, occasionally, certain dogs like pit bulls are stolen as a personal attack on the owner.

Application of Texas Laws About Dog Theft

Felonies are the more serious criminal offenses with a punishment of over a year in prison; misdemeanors are less serious crimes, punishable by a maximum of a year in county jail. Texas treats stealing dogs as a misdemeanor, the lesser type of crime.

In Texas, the misdemeanor theft charges range from Class C to Class A, depending on the market value of the stolen property, that is the commercial value attributed to the specific stolen dog.

Cynthia Durham Dog Theft Case

The problem with the way Texas law applies theft laws in dognapping cases is well illustrated by the infamous Cynthia Durham case. Ms. Durham was the president of the Humane Society in Van Zandt County in Texas in 2019, when a local man filed a police report about his missing pets.

He claimed that someone had stolen his two purebred Blue Heeler hounds from a fenced-in yard while his family was out of town. It turned out that a neighbor saw Ms. Durham take the dogs, and, when confronted, she confessed to the crime.

Durham stole the dogs, then transported the dogs to a Wisconsin "rescue" owned by a friend of hers, and they were awaiting "adoption" by people who would pay dearly for them. This is classic dog flipping. Durham was arrested, as was her friend in the Wisconsin rescue, but both refused to say where the dogs were or to return them.

Durham was charged only with a Class A misdemeanor since the "property" stolen (the beloved pet dogs) had a value of over $750. The maximum punishment for this crime is a fine and up to a year in jail time.

Punishments for Texas Dog Stealing

The severity of charges for theft of property, including dogs, in Texas depends on:

  • Value of the property stolen.
  • Type of property stolen.
  • Previous convictions for theft.

Some legislators and many pet rescue organizations are trying to change the state laws to make dog theft a felony charge. But to date, this has not happened. In Texas, the charges based on property value according to Texas Penal Code Chapter 31 are:

  • Class C misdemeanor for theft of property up to $100 in value: $500 fine.
  • Class B misdemeanor for theft of property from $100 to $750 in value: $2,000 fine and up to 180 days in jail.
  • Class A misdemeanor for theft of property from $750 up to $2,500 in value: $4,000 fine and up to one year in jail.
  • State jail felony for theft of property from $2,500 up to $20,000 in value: $10,000 fine and from 180 days to two years in jail.

Theft of Farm Animals Is a Felony

Theft of farm animals in Texas, it should be noted, is a felony of the third degree. The statute (Texas Penal Code 2022 Section 31.03 ) sets out an exception, specifying that, regardless of value, theft is a felony of the third degree if the property is:

  • Cattle, horses or exotic livestock or exotic fowl as defined by Agriculture Code Section 142.001, stolen during a single transaction and having an aggregate value of less than $150,000.
  • 10 or more head of sheep, swine or goats stolen during a single transaction and having an aggregate value of less than $150,000.

Texas Animal Cruelty Laws

Despite the fact that Texas does not have theft laws that reflect the special relationship between dogs and their human families, state laws in Texas do treat animal abuse severely. While stealing a dog is a fairly low-level misdemeanor, animal abuse, when severe, can lead to felony charges.

According to Texas Penal Code Section 42.092, animal cruelty to non-livestock animals includes harm to "a domesticated living creature, including any stray or feral cat or dog." The acts constituting animal cruelty include:

  • Torturing, killing or gravely injuring an animal.
  • Failing to provide adequate food, shelter or medical care.
  • Failing to transport an animal in a humane manner.
  • Fighting animals other than dogs.
  • Using animals for bait in dog races.
  • Working an animal too hard.

Texas Dogfighting Laws

In addition, Texas Penal Code 43 addresses dogfighting laws. Third-degree animal cruelty offenses in Texas include:

  • Torturing, killing or gravely injuring an animal.
  • Failing to provide adequate food, shelter or medical care.

These crimes are punishable by a $10,000 fine and two to 10 years in prison. Offenders with previous convictions face even more serious charges. A second-degree felony conviction can result in a prison sentence of up to 20 years.

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