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Proposal would crack down on pet trafficking

March 14, 2000
By: Danel Aguirre
State Capital Bureau
Links: HB 1961

JEFFERSON CITY - Pet theft goes virtually unpunished in Missouri, which may be why some pet dealers call it the "Steal-me" state.

For example, under current law, stealing a dog carries the same penalty as stealing a garden hose.

The tearful stories from the owners of stolen pets prompted Rep. Barbara Fraser, D-St.Louis County, to sponsor a bill that would make it a felony to steal someone's pet or knowingly purchase a stolen animal.

The proposed crime would carry penalty of up to seven years in jail.

"We want to send a clear message to people who steal animals that we won't allow this any more," Fraser said.

An estimated two to five million pets are stolen every year in the U.S. They are taken from cars and backyards, or through ads which promise "a good new home" to pets.

In many cases, animals are sold illegally to researchers, Fraser said. In other cases, they are sold for fighting or religious sacrifice.

"Large animals, big broad-chested dogs are the ones that are in biggest danger," Fraser said.

Fraser's proposal would establish an Internet registry of stolen pets.

People who deal with these kind of stolen merchandise have often legal licenses for selling with animals.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture permits dealers to obtain "random source" animals and sell them for profit. Certain people with these type of licenses promote the illegal trafficking of animals, Fraser said.

Some dealers get the animals from brokers who stole them. In many cases, the researchers don't know that the animals were stolen, she said.

The proposed legislation would compel researchers to check the lost pet registry to find out if the animal they are purchasing was stolen.

"We hope that the fines will keep the people off stealing pets," Fraser said.

There was no opposition testimoney to the proposal when it was heard by a House State Parks Committee earlier this year.

The committee approved the measure for debate by the full House, where the measure is now pending.