What Is the Punishment for Stealing a Dog in Texas?

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Legally, stealing a dog in Texas is the same as stealing any other type of personal property. With dogs and other companion animals, emotions sometimes cause complications. They don’t, however, change the law or the punishments that accompany convictions for theft.

Laws Relating to Dognapping in Texas

Unfortunately due to websites like Craigslist, there’s been a rise in dog thefts. Unscrupulous people involved in “dog flipping,” or the informal reselling of pets, steal a dog and sell it over personal ad sites. Some go so far as to establish fake rescue organizations in other states where the dogs sell for higher prices.

In July 2019, Cynthia Durham, the Van Zandt County Humane Society president, stole two purebred dogs from a fenced-in yard. Within days, they were in Wisconsin awaiting adoption through a friend’s rescue. A neighbor identified Durham who admitted to police she’d taken the dogs. She was charged with Class A misdemeanor theft of property.

Charges and Punishments for Stealing a Dog in Texas

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

  • The value of the property stolen. 
  • The type of property stolen.
  • Previous convictions for theft.

While legislators continue to fight for felony charges for dog thefts, as of 2020, dogs were not a special class of property in Texas. Appropriate charges based on property value according to Texas Penal Code 31 include:

  • 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.

Is It Legal to Keep a Lost Pet?

Refusing to return a lost or runaway pet is also considered stealing a dog in Texas. It comes up more often than expected because Texas animal laws say that anyone who feeds or cares for a stray animal assumes ownership. That doesn’t apply when a supposed stray turns out to have an existing owner.

In 2016, a case gained national attention when police arrested Shelby Corker, 25, of Fort Worth for refusing to return a lost dog. Corker said the owner had mistreated the dog and put it at risk. Local authorities told her she could turn the dog over to the humane society, and if abused, they would sever the owner’s rights and she would be able to adopt the dog legally.

Corker refused and spent 13 hours in jail, and then fought the charges in court. The case took on a life of its own over social media, where hundreds of thousands of people called for Corker’s release. In the end, authorities didn’t believe the dog had been abused and returned her to the rightful owner.

What Is the Punishment for Animal Cruelty in Texas?

Both Dunham and Corker attempted to assume ownership of pets based on what they claimed was animal cruelty. The authorities disagreed with them. That doesn’t mean Texas state law takes animal abuse lightly. Severity and special circumstances can lead to misdemeanor or felony charges or to civil penalties. According to Texas Penal Code 42.092, Cruelty to Nonlivestock Animals, animal cruelty consists of:

  • 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.

In addition, Texas Penal Code 43 addresses dogfighting laws.

District attorneys often charge animal abusers under Class A misdemeanors, but there are exceptions. Some abuse doesn’t fall under the penal code, but civil and municipal penalties can apply. Others are state jail felonies, including using animals as bait in dog races and working an animal too hard.

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 are punishable with a $10,000 fine and two to 10 years in prison. Offenders with previous convictions face more serious charges. A second-degree felony conviction can land someone in jail for up to 20 years.