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What is a Cat Burglar?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 23, 2024
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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.

PublicPeople is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By fify — On Feb 22, 2013

Does anyone remember the news headline about a cat "burglar"-- literally a cat going into neighbors' houses at night and taking stuff like shoes and socks? It was hilarious!

By literally45 — On Feb 21, 2013

"Cat burglar" reminds of black clothes and face covered with a mask. This is usually how they show cat burglars in films. They're climbing walls, cutting glass windows and getting to the most protected valuables without making a sound.

I think this is a bit exaggerated though. I'm sure that there are cat burglars who can do this stuff but not many.

By SarahGen — On Feb 21, 2013

@bananas-- That's true.

I read in the news recently that a cat burglar sneaked into someone's bedroom while everyone was asleep and stole a wallet right next to them!

I find this astonishing. Cat burglars are not just sneaky and quiet, they're also very courageous!

By Kristee — On Feb 20, 2013

My friend left her car unlocked just long enough to run inside to her dorm room, and her laptop got stolen. Cat burglars are quick, and you never know where they might be lurking, because they are also good at hiding.

By Perdido — On Feb 19, 2013

@orangey03 – A dog can definitely scare away cat burglars if it lives outside. It could also scare them away if it lives indoors and they attempt to enter. However, if the burglar is trying to steal something out of your yard, the dog might never even notice.

I have a friend who has a big golden retriever that sleeps inside. He had his boat stolen from his shed a few months ago, and the dog never even barked that night.

By orangey03 — On Feb 19, 2013

You can deter cat burglars by getting a guard dog. Just like regular cats avoid yards with dogs in them, cat burglars tend to stay away, because they know that the barking will attract attention, even if they don't get bitten or attacked.

Cat burglars are all about being quick and sneaky. Dogs throw a wrench into that plan.

My sister lives in a neighborhood that had recently been hit by a cat burglar. When he tried to come near her house, her four dogs scared him so badly that he dropped his bicycle and ran!

By kylee07drg — On Feb 18, 2013

I wouldn't associate violence and rape with a cat burglar at all. He might be sneaky and quiet, but at the moment when he starts to inflict harm, he loses all stealth and the privilege of calling himself a cat burglar.

By anon247635 — On Feb 14, 2012

@bananas: You can also outsmart the burglar by locking the door.

By anon204467 — On Aug 09, 2011

A cat burglar would steal the kitty!

By anon58817 — On Jan 04, 2010

For a positive perspective - check out this non-violent mystery book by John A. Burnham, about a cat burglar who uses her talents for the good.

By bananas — On May 21, 2009

I believe a cat burglary also refers to a burglary when somebody is present in the home, such as during the night, when the occupants might be asleep.

The cat burglar enters the home, unbeknown to the residents, steals valuables, and disappears.

You can outsmart a burglar by placing some less valuable items in places where the burglar would most likely search first.

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