Animal cruelty is typically associated with the inhumane treatment of pets or livestock. Traditionally, cruelty against animals has been treated purely on an economic basis, with penalties typically only covering the cost of the animal in question. Recently, however, the trend in U.S. courts has been to implement criminal as well as civil penalties for such abuse. While this legal development has secured more substantial rights for pets and their owners, the law still does not treat violence against pets with the same severity as that against humans.

What to Do If You Were Accused of Animal Cruelty

In the criminal system, a person is guilty of aggravated cruelty to animals when, with no justifiable purpose, he or she intentionally kills or intentionally causes serious physical injury to a companion animal with aggravated cruelty. In this context, aggravated cruelty means conduct which is intended to cause extreme physical pain; or, is done or carried out in an especially depraved or sadistic manner. There are two factors to consider when facing criminal charges:

  • States are still split almost evenly in their classification of animal cruelty as a misdemeanor or felony. If it is classified as a misdemeanor there is little likelihood of any punishment aside from a minor fine.
  • In the states that define it as a felony, courts will usually fine a defendant no more than $20,000 and sentence them to no more than two years in jail.

What to Do If Your Animal Was the Victim of Abuse

If your animal has been killed or injured due to an act of animal cruelty, you can bring your case to your local district attorney, as well as bring an action in civil court. Because the legal classification of pets is that of personal property, most civil judgments are limited to the pet's market value. While some courts may take into consideration such factors as emotional distress, many courts refuse to expand judgments to this extent.

Should I Contact an Attorney?

In either case an attorney can be extremely helpful. If you have been accused of animal cruelty, a criminal defense attorney can be helpful in answering questions and representing you in court. If you have lost a pet, you can contact the DA to pursue criminal charges, as well as contacting a personal injury attorney to pursue civil litigation.