As we saw in Part 1, pets are personal property in the eyes of the law. But what does that mean about the true value of a pet? For starters, let’s go back to Virginia Code Section 3.2-6585, which says that “all dogs and cats” are “deemed personal property.” This code section goes on to say that dogs and cats may be the subject of larceny and malicious or unlawful trespass. Section 3.2-6585 also grants an “owner” the right to sue if their cat or dog is killed, injured, unlawfully detained or unlawfully used, and the right to recover damages in the amount of the “value thereof or the damage done thereto.” [For more on “owners,” see my post, “So What Are My Responsibilities as a Pet Owner?”]
So what in the world does “value thereof or the damage done thereto” mean? Often courts consider this to be the pet’s “replacement value,” which could fall right around $200. There is some support for this figure when you look at Virginia’s larceny laws.
In Virginia, the line between petit larceny (a misdemeanor) and grand larceny (a felony) is only $200. Virginia Code Section 18.2-97 (yes, in the Crimes against Property Chapter) makes it a felony to steal a dog, horse, pony, mule, cow, steer, bull or calf. Larceny of poultry, swine, sheep, lamb and goats could also result in a felony. Conspicuously missing from the list are cats. This could be why Section 3.2-6585 says dogs and cats “may” be the subject of larceny. Even if stealing a cat didn’t result in grand larceny, there is no reason it would not constitute petit larceny. And although stealing a dog is a felony, the crime carries a maximum of 10 years in prison — compared with the maximum of 20 years when someone steals $201 of clothing or jewelry from a store.
Yet another statute that throws around the $200 figure is Section 18.2-102, dealing with the unauthorized use of animals, aircrafts, vehicles or boats. Unauthorized use results in a felony if the value of animal, aircraft, vehicle or boat is $200 or over, and a misdemeanor if the value is under $200.
Section 18.2-97.1 makes it a misdemeanor to remove a dog’s electronic or radio transmitting collar in order to prevent finding the dog. Although it is unclear, I would hope this includes removing a microchip. This section also talks about “value,” giving a court explicit authority to order restitution of the “actual value of any dog lost or killed as a result of such removal” and “for any lost breeding revenues.”
For those of you in Prince William County, Prince William County Code Section 4-22 gives you the right to sue if your dog is injured or killed on your property by another dog that did not have permission to be there. Damages would be – you guessed it – the “value thereof or the damage done thereto.”
Can the “value thereof or the damage done thereto” really max out at about $200? If your dog is not a particular breed or does not have particular training, this certainly could be the case. However, a property owner has always been able to testify about the value of his or her property, and this should not be any different for dogs. A person with an expensive pure breed or a dog with extensive training, such as a service dog or protection dog, should be allowed to establish the value of their dog by showing how much they paid for the dog and the dog’s “replacement value,” including any unique characteristics or training.
Even if you own a mutt and are limited to something like $200 for actual damages, what if someone intentionally killed your pet? Could you sue for emotional distress or punitive damages? If you’re interested in these questions, stay posted for Part 3.
As a final note, what about the line between grand larceny and petit larceny? The $200 mark is not just for animals. It is the same for any stolen item – money, jewelry, a car or a boat. It has been so since 1980. Is it time for that to change? If you want more info about this threshold, take a look at this 2008 Power Point presentation by the Virginia State Crime Commission.