If you covet a cuddly kitten, one local judge in Virginia has ruled that's it's legal to enter premises to steal it.

No kidding! That's an opinion handed down this week by Judge Crawley Connelly Jr. in Hopewell General District Court.

Connelly ruled that it was not illegal for a man to enter the local animal shelter to steal cats, but that it would be illegal to take dogs.

Sounds convoluted, to be sure, but it's all based on a state law that defines dogs as personal property while defining cats as "base animals" who are nobody's property.

The decision -- which seems sure somehow to be clarified and perhaps reversed eventually by higher courts -- came in the case of Kenneth Kilby, 23, of Chester, Va.

On Nov. 6, Kilby went to the Hopewell animal shelter and acquired three kittens. Later that night, local police said they arrested him after he returned to the shelter to abduct five more kittens he wanted to rescue from destruction.

He was caught with a paper sackful of the kittens and charged with breaking and entering with intent to commit larceny.

Now get this: In Virginia, a breaking and entering charge must involve an intention to commit a crime, such as thievery.

But Kilby's lawyer, C. Hardaway Marks, contended that a person can't steal a cat -- a "base animal," not an item of personal property. So Kilby did not commit any crime when he burgled the animal shelter, Judge Connelly concluded in finding the man innocent.

A technical issue, Commonwealth's Attorney Dan Aldridge said.

Marks said a defendant entering premises could be charged with trespassing, a misdemeanor that carries a penalty of up to one year in jail, but Kilby was not so charged.

In a memo to Judge Connelly, Marks asserted: " . . . those who love cats know that cats belong to no one. Persons do not have property rights in cats. Cats have property rights in persons."

Lucifer and Romeo, two Siamese in Arlington don't need to be told.