Danville, VA asked in Animal / Dog Law for Virginia

Q: Can my mother press charges for me taking my dog?

My parents bought the dog for me and the dog has lived with me at college. She is very attached to me and I have been the primary caretaker of the dog. I even have ESA paperwork filed at my college for the dog. The problem is that all of the dogs paperwork is in my mothers name. I am recently married and am wanting to take the dog with me when I move out with my husband. She does not want me to. Could she successfully press charges against me for taking the dog?

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1 Lawyer Answer
Jessica Wildeus
Jessica Wildeus
  • Licensed in Virginia

A: Probably not.

Generally speaking, Virginia law treats animals as property, making theft of animals in Virginia a crime. Va. Code 18.2-97 defines this as larceny and a felony.

In order for anyone to be prosecuted for this, a complaining witness must first establish that the animal in question was, in fact, theirs to begin with. In this situation, it sounds like you may have been living with your parents for some time with your dog in the same home. On one hand, your parents purchased the dog and have paperwork in their name. On the other, it seems the dog was meant for you, and you have ESA paperwork filed with your school.

It seems likely that, should your mother file a complaint, a responding officer would consider this a domestic issue rather than a criminal one.

However, if you are concerned, as an added measure you can make sure you have the proper documentation in order for the dog. For example, when you move, make sure the municipal pet license for the dog is in your name.

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