Pet Theft Laws

Pets should not roam on their own for safety reasons.
Pets should not roam on their own for safety reasons. (Image: cute puppy dog doggy cutie image by alma_sacra from

According to In Defense of Animals (IDA), about 5 million pets are reported missing each year. IDA estimates about 1.5 to 2 million of these pets to have been stolen. Stolen animals become fighters in dog-fighting rings or breeding animals. They are also used as meat for human consumption, as food for exotic pets or as fur for clothing and accessories.


By law, pets are defined as valuable property, and pet theft constitutes a felony or a misdemeanor in all U.S. states. The pet owner can file a report at the local police department or sheriff's office if he suspects theft. A police report will help the police identify the pet if found and will be useful in court.

Pound Seizure

Some pounds, shelters and humane societies are allowed by law to sell animals to animal dealers and research facilities. Known as pound seizures, only 13 U.S. states outlaw this practice as of July 2010. According to the IDA, some pounds and shelters illegally acquire animals for sale, including through theft. They might pick up pets, "launder" the pets by keeping them in the facilities and sell them to dealers and research facilities.

Animal Dealer

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulates animal dealers by requiring licensing of persons selling more than 24 dogs or cats per year. However, a Class B dealer license only costs $50 as of July 2010 and is easy to get. It allows the holder to sell animals obtained from "random sources," which often includes theft or free-to-good-home pets. USDA inspectors visit Class B dealer facilities four times per year to check their records, but lack of serious enforcement defeats the purpose, according to PetFinder.Com.

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