In the state of Virginia, stealing a dog versus stealing a cat will yield very different punishments.
Stealing a dog is a Class 5 felony (so is stealing a horse, pony, mule, cow, steer, bull or calf) and is punishable by one to ten years in prison. But stealing a cat in Virginia is a Class 1 misdemeanor and is only punishable by as much as a year in jail.
State Delegate Jennifer McClellan wants to change this inequality. She says the law is unfair and that the punishment for stealing a dog and stealing a cat should be the same.
McClellan, the Richmond Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Virginia Farm Bureau are clarifying the bill to be reconsidered at a future meeting.
Supporters of the bill have dubbed it “Ernie’s Law” in honor of the kitten whose ordeal inspired the legislation.
Ernie was stolen from an animal shelter last year when two men inquired abut Ernie and then walked out with the kitten.
A shelter worker got their license plate number and the car was tracked down. Charges were pressed, but the prosecutor decided the misdemeanor wasn’t worth pursuing after the defendant failed to show up for the arraignment.
Some delegates and members worry about the proposed bill because since many cats are feral, they do not want Virginians subjected to a felony if they feed a cat that happens to go onto their property and decides to stay with the family.
Many local dairy cow farmers have similar concerns because many of the feral cats in the area are attracted to milk and stay on their farms willingly.