Though the technical definition is more inclusive, a cat burglar generally refers to a thief who breaks into homes to steal personal property. Cats are stealthy and quiet, approaching prey without causing alarm, pouncing without warning. Cat burglars are thieves who slip in unnoticed, taking what he wants before the victim knows what’s happened. He or she might also steal from outbuildings such as sheds, barns or garages, automobiles, boats, planes, trains, churches or schools.
In a wider sense, a cat burglar is simply a thief, foremostly associated with breaking and entering — a legal term. This doesn’t require the thief to actually break something in order to make entry. Slipping through an open door or window is also considered breaking and entering. Anyone who enters property unauthorized, private or commercial, with the intent of stealing or vandalizing can be considered a cat burglar, even if the person fails in the attempt to steal or vandalize.
A perpetrator who drives a truck through a convenience store window to steal an ATM machine is also a thief, but “cat burglar” might not be the most appropriate term. A group of wayward teens who gather in an abandoned building to loudly party and vandalize the property are also thieves, but without the stealthy, quiet aspect associated with the term it becomes a misnomer. However, a cat burglar can be associated with violence, including battery or rape that might occur while in commission of the crime.
Those familiar with the Batman series or comic might remember the character, Catwoman. Catwoman was a cat burglar with tones of Robin Hood. She stole from the more fortunate to stay alive in the seedy streets of the fictional Gotham City, often sharing her bounty with the less fortunate. On occasion she aligned forces with Batman, her character walking the gray line between villain and anti-hero.
In reality, a cat burglar in the United States runs the risk of becoming victim to the three strikes law, sometimes referred to as the habitual crime statute. Anyone convicted of three felonies is automatically sentenced to life in prison.