Theft of “Companion Animals”

Theft of Companion Animals While dogs have long been considered “man’s best friend,” people have undoubtedly developed strong emotional bonds with all types of domesticated animals. Accordingly, people may spend hundreds if not thousands of dollars to acquire their perfect companion. As the popularity and monetary value of these animals has risen, so too has the number of reported thefts. Surprisingly, prior to the California’s passing of Assembly Bill (“AB”) 1290, dogs were the only animal protected under Penal Code sections 487e and 487f. However, by passing AB 1290, the California Legislature amended Penal Code sections 487e, 487f, and 491, to seek added protection for owners of cats and other household pets by making it a crime to steal any “companion animal,” not just dogs. Depending on the monetary value of the “companion animal,” the crime can be charged as a felony or misdemeanor.

Penal Code sections 487e and 487f

Penal Code sections 487e and 487f make stealing a companion animal a crime. To be found guilty of theft of a companion animal, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant stole, took, or carried away a “companion animal” of another. As amended by the California Legislature, Penal Code sections 487e and 487f define “companion animal” to mean “(b) an animal, including but not limited to, a dog or a cat that a person keeps and provides care for as a household pet or otherwise for the purpose of companionship, emotional support, service, or protection.” Only domesticated animals are included. Feral animals, as defined in section 31752.5 of the Food and Agricultural Code, are specifically excluded.

If the “companion animal” has a monetary value that exceeds $951 the offense is considered grand theft, a felony. Penal Code section 487e. If the “companion animal” has a monetary value that is less than $950 the offense is petty theft, a misdemeanor.

Penal Code section 491 and the how to determine the “value” of a “companion animal”

Penal Code section 491, which had previously been written to address how to ascertain the value of a dog, was amended by the California Legislature to account for all “companion animals.” Pursuant to Penal Code section 491, “(a) Companion animals are personal property, and their value is to be ascertained in the same manner as the value of other property.”

Any theft charge, including theft of a companion animal, is serious and could result on serious penalties and other consequences. Theft charges can carry numerous collateral consequences, including immigration and professional licensing. Like other theft and fraud offenses, these are often considered to be “crimes of moral turpitude” and conviction can have far-reaching consequences, especially for those who are not United States citizens or for those who are applying for citizenship. There may be numerous valid defenses to this charge and anyone accused of this offense should speak with an experienced attorney right away.

If you or a family member has been charged with or is being investigated for a theft offense, including theft of a companion animal, in Los Angeles, Orange County, Riverside County, San Bernardino County, or Ventura County, it is imperative that you hire the best attorney that you can. As a former Deputy District Attorney with over 14 years of prosecutorial experience, Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Michael Kraut knows how to effectively defend clients who have been accused of felony and misdemeanor level theft offenses.

For more information about all types of theft offenses, including theft of a companion animal, and to schedule your free consultation, contact attorney Michael Kraut at the Kraut Criminal & DUI Lawyers located at 6255 Sunset Boulevard, Suite 1520, Los Angeles, CA 90028. Mr. Kraut can be reached 24/7 at (888) 334-6344 or (323) 464-6453.

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