Animal Abuse and the Law

Take a moment to consider the fact that 550 cases of animal abuse were documented in the United States in 2012 alone.

Unfortunately, even in a state as progressive as Washington, animal abuse continues to be a serious problem. 

Animal Abuse and the Law

In Washington, animal abusers offenders can be convicted of Animal Cruelty in the Second Degree or Animal Cruelty in the First Degree. The former more or less fits the general definition of “simple neglect,” wherein a person fails to provide the basic needs of an animal, intentionally or not. In many other states, this is not necessarily a criminal act. In Washington, this may result in a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment and fines. Animal Cruelty in the First Degree can result in greater fines and longer terms of imprisonment. Cruelty in the First Degree occurs when an individual causes (or forces a minor to cause) willful, cruel, or malicious neglect—i.e. unnecessary pain, injury, suffering or death to an animal.

Signs of Negligence

Cat at Vet

What does animal abuse look like exactly, you ask? How can I tell if animal(s) are in danger? Here are common things to look for:

  • Lack of proper grooming
  • Signs of illness that have gone untreated
  • Limping or inability to stand
  • Untreated or open wounds, injuries or skin conditions
  • Signs of old wounds that went untreated
  • Collar is chained or tightly embedded into skin
  • Evidence of an animal being trained or used for fighting
  • Emaciation
  • Severe flea or tick problems
  • Obvious trauma
  • Noticeable confusion or extreme drowsiness
  • Observation of hitting, kicking or other forms of physical abuse
  • Suspicious death of one or more animals
  • Environmental signs of animal neglect
  • Pets tied up or left outside for lengthy periods in inclement or inhospitable weather or without food, water or shelter
  • Pets kept in other unsafe, deteriorated or unsanitary environments
  • Pets kept in overly restrictive or overcrowded cage or kennel (it should allow them to stand and turn around)
  • Animal hoarding
  • Vile odors from the property in question, including the perpetual smell of feces or ammonia

Taking Actions

If you notice these signs in your pet after it has been in someone else’s care (e.g. a kennel, breeder, sitter, walker or groomer) or in another animal, here are some actions that you can take on the animal’s behalf:

If you notice these signs in your pet after it has been in someone else’s care (i.e. a kennel, breeder, sitter, walker or groomer) or in another animal, here are some actions that you can take on the animal’s behalf:

  1. Investigate. DO NOT start by actively accusing the suspected persons of abuse, as animal abusers can often exhibit violence towards other humans as well. Instead, find out for sure if the animal(s) in question is/are being neglected. Sometimes you may encounter one or two of the above signs without the occurrence of neglect (e.g. if pets are afflicted by fleas or another health condition that the owners are having difficulty in actively treating.) Other times, an animal’s neglect may be symptomatic of other problems that could require different solutions (e.g. mental illness that results in animal hoarding, extreme poverty that results in an inability to feed pets, self, and/or children, etc.)
  2. Collect evidence. Photos, videos, eyewitness reports, and written personal reports are all helpful in making a case for animal abuse or neglect. Remember that signatures, dates and timestamps will help solidify any and all evidence. If you later decide to call the authorities, you will need to hand all of this over.
  3. Alert the authorities. Research the laws in your area and alert those responsible for dealing with animal abuse or neglect there. In Tacoma, you can call animal control at 253-627-7383. If you’re away from home or in a rural community, you can call the local police or animal control organization. Note that if you feel the animal’s life is in immediate danger, you may skip all other steps and immediately alert the authorities.
  4. Seek legal counsel. If your pet is the victim of abuse, you will want to make sure you have spoken to a lawyer about your case and all of your legal options.
  5. Be prepared to testify. Though you have the option of remaining anonymous, know that witness testimonies will greatly strengthen the case against any and all offenders. That said, make sure that doing so will not place you in any kind of danger and be certain to speak with your attorney about this.

If you suspect animal abuse and need an attorney to take on a negligent dog daycare business, boarding kennel, dog trainer, veterinarian or dog breeder, or legal help in any capacity that could possibly help your pets or other animals, please let us know. If you work with animals, we can help advise you on ethical practices and contracts related to the animals you work with so that you can be certain to care for them as best as possible.


Photo credit: Niklas via / CC BY-NC-SA
Sources: Pets for Patriots, East Bay SPCA, Connecticut Humane Society