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Theft of Dogs Expanded to Include ''Companion Animal'' as Defined

Under California laws, a dog is considered personal property, and just like stealing any personal property is a crime, it is also a crime in California to steal a dog or cat.

Stealing a dog whose value exceeds $950 is grand theft while if you steal a dog whose value is below $950, you will be charged with petty theft.

AB 1290 amends the laws on the theft of dogs to include companion animals.

As such:

  • Stealing a companion animal worth more than $950 in value is a grand theft offense.
  • Stealing a companion animal whose value is less than $950 is a petty theft crime

The law defines a companion animal as an animal kept as a pet, for service, protection, emotional support, or company (companionship).

Feral animals aren't considered companion animals, and their theft is unprotected under this provision.

Below are the details of the amendments.

Section 491: Definition of Companion Animal

PC 491 defines companion animals as personal property, whose value is determined in the same way as other property.

A companion animal is any animal that a person keeps for:

  • Emotional support
  • Companionship
  • Service
  • Protection

The law doesn't consider feral cats as companion animals.

The California Food and Agricultural Code 31752.5 defines feral cats as follows:

"a cat without owner identification of any kind whose usual and consistent temperament is extreme fear and resistance to contact with people. A feral cat is totally unsocialized to people."

Section 487e: Grand Theft of a Companion Animal

Under PC 487e, stealing, taking, or carrying away a companion animal worth more than $950 is a grand theft offense.

If convicted of grand theft, your punishment may be:

  • A prison term of up to three years in a state prison
  • Up to $5,000 in fines
  • Imprisonment for three years in state prison and up to $5,000 in fines

Grand theft in California can be charged as a felony or misdemeanor offense under Section 487. Therefore, depending on the circumstances of your case, the prosecutor might charge you with a misdemeanor, which is a lesser charge punishable by one year in county jail.

You may still have to pay up to $5,000 in fines even when charged with a misdemeanor.

More about Grand Theft

To be guilty of grand theft under CPC 487(a)-(d), the items you have stolen or taken should include any of the following:

  • Property worth more than $950
  • A firearm
  • An automobile
  • Fish from a fishery or research operation

AB 1290 expands the scope of PC 487 to include PC 487 (e) and 487 (f), making the theft of any animal considered a companion animal a crime in California.

Additionally, before you are charged with grand theft, the prosecutor must prove intent and worth.

  • Intent means that you meant to deny to a person ownership or use of their property.
  • Worth refers to the value of the items stolen
Section 487f: Petty Theft of a Companion Animal

If you steal, take, or carry away a companion animal whose value is less than $950, you have committed the crime of petty theft.

The punishment for petty theft may be:

  • Up to six months in county jail
  • A fine of up to $1,000
  • Imprisonment for six months in county jail plus a fine of up to $1,000
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