Virginia Politician Proposes Bill To Make Punishment For Stealing Dogs And Cats Same

Feral Cats

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.

Source: Virginian Pilot, Associated Press

8 Responses to “Virginia Politician Proposes Bill To Make Punishment For Stealing Dogs And Cats Same”

  1. Lynne says:

    Seems to me the penalty for stealing a pet should be the same regardless of the breed. Someone could be just as attached to their iguana as I am to my dogs. (Hard to imagine, but possible!) :)

  2. Tanya says:

    Course, the cynic in me says “oh, they’ll make it equal alright. they’ll just lower the dog to match the cat.”.

  3. kaefamily says:

    I don’t know for certain but I have been told that in CA if one drives over a cat the law requires the driver to stop and assist or go to jail; not in case of a dog because dogs are considered wild animals. Can anyone verify this?

  4. Kevin says:

    Yup! Thats got to change. If some one stole my cats I would want them to do more than a year.

    People consider their pets as family and I don’t see the difference between a dog or a cat. They are both considered family.

  5. Lis says:

    Kaefamily, I don’t know the specifics of CA law, but that sounds exactly backwards. It’s cats, not dogs, that are often treated in the law as wild animals.

    Obviously we don’t want people who feed or rescue ferals to be treated as thieves, but it ought to be possible to distinguish between feeding free-roaming cats, and intentionally stealing an animal you know belongs to someone else. Whether or not Delegate McClellan’s law does that in its current form, I have no idea.

  6. Colby says:

    My mother loves her cats more than her dog. I think she’d go crazy if she heard they weren’t being treated equally.

    I wonder if the difference in penalties is because an outdoor cat usually wonders the entire neighborhood while an outdoor dog generally stays in his owners yard. When I was a kid we had two outdoor cats that would solicit food from several of our neighbors.

    I do agree that we can get attached to any pet no matter what type of animal it is and therefore punishments should be the same for cats, dogs, or any stolen pet.

  7. The Lioness says:

    This has the potential to be a good law, but they will need to define what is “feral.” I would also hate to see feral tenders penalized for helping these unfortunate cats.

    It’s good it’s even on the table, though.

    ~The Lioness

  8. dexter says:

    if they find a cat that belongs to them on someone else’s property then they should ask for it back and not get charged for the cats desition

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