Dog abuse occurs when a person intentionally abuses or neglects a dog that is in their care, whether a pet or not. State law definitions of dog and animal abuse may vary, but they generally cover a wide range of actions and conduct towards a dog. Such laws cover both physical abuse of a dog (such as striking, hitting, maiming, etc.) as well as acts of neglect.
Dog abuse crimes may apply to a wide range of persons, including dog owners, pet shop operators, veterinarians and veterinary assistants, and other persons. Animal cruelty laws can apply to animals that the person does not own, not just those that are kept as pets. For instance, a person may face criminal charges for the abuse of a stray dog or a neighbor’s dog.
How Common is Dog Abuse?
Dogs are the most common victims of animal abuse. Dog abuse accounts for more than 64% of all documented animal cruelty cases that are reported by the media. Just counting instances of hoarding (owning more dogs than you can take care of) there are up to 2,000 cases per year reported in the United States.
What Are Some Examples of Dog Abuse?
Examples of physical dog abuse include:
- Training a dog for, or subjecting a dog to, dog fighting activities
- Torturing a dog
- Mutilating a dog, such as cutting off body parts (e.g., ear flaps)
- Wounding a dog
- Punishing a dog very harshly with physical force
- Leaving a dog abandoned with the intent that it gets injured or dies
- Killing a dog (“putting it down”) without proper veterinary processes
- Shooting a dog
- Overworking a labor dog
- Intentionally starving a dog
- Throwing a dog
- Stabbing a dog
- Burning a dog
- Running over a dog with a car or truck
- Drowning a dog
- Suffocating a dog
- Beating a dog
Examples of neglect of a dog include:
- Leaving a dog in a place that is too hot or cold or without adequate ventilation (such as unattended in a vehicle)
- Failing to feed a dog properly
- Keeping many dogs in a space that is too small (hoarding dogs)
- Feeding a dog materials that are not suitable for eating and drinking
- Going on vacation or leaving home without making proper arrangements for the dog’s food, water, and cleanliness
- Environmental abuse (being forced to live in an unsanitary or unsafe environment, including being denied adequate shelter)
- Denial of basic care, including the provision of food, water and medical attention
Signs of Animal Abuse
There are many indications that can suggest that dog abuse is taking place.. Obvious signs of abuse include:
- Unexplained fractures
- Physical weakness
- Untreated skin conditions (rashes, bumps, scaly skin, etc.)
- Heavy discharge from the eyes or nose
- Open or festering wounds
- Dirty or matted fur or overgrown nails
- Fur loss
- Heavy flea or tick infestations in the fur
- A collar so tight that it is causing a wound
- Whining or whimpering
- The dog is chained or kept outside without shelter during harsh weather
- The dog’s living area is unconscionably dirty, littered with feces
- Harmful objects in the dog’s enclosure, such as broken glass or garbage
A dog’s actions or attitude can be a sign of abuse. If the dog is flinching at human conduct, whining or whimpering a lot, aggressive, or showing extreme submissiveness (urinating inappropriately, rolling over, or tucking the tail between the legs) abuse may be happening.
However, a dog’s behavior is a less reliable indicator than visual or physical clues because there are a number of possible explanations for aggressive or timid behavior. Nevertheless, consistent displays of unprovoked aggression or peculiar behavior toward a particular person can be a sign that the animal has had negative experiences with that person.
Who Abuses Animals?
Cruelty to dogs is not limited to certain groups of people. Rather, it takes place in every state, by every age group and every economic class.
Is there variation in the method of abuse chosen by men and women? According to the Humane Society of the United States, men under 30 are more likely to intentionally abuse animals, while women over 60 are more likely to hoard animals (have too many pets in the house than they can properly care for).
In some cases, the problem with abusing dogs is directly tied to the abuse of humans. About 1 million animals per year are abused because of domestic violence that occurs in the home where they live. 71% of pet-owning women entering women’s shelters reported that their batterer had injured, maimed, killed or threatened a family pet for revenge. What is particularly disturbing is the prevalence of children abusing animals. The percentage of battered women who say that their children have abused or killed animals while at home: 32%.
Why does domestic abuse correlate with dog abuse? Women who are abused by their domestic partners tend to seek out comfort from their dog when their stress levels are high. When domestic violence happens, dogs are often a secondary target because the abuser knows that they will be able to hurt the victim by hurting the victim’s pet dog.
What Are the Penalties for Dog Abuse Crimes?
Before 1986, there were only 4 states that had laws against animal cruelty. Today, dog abuse can result in criminal charges in all 50 states. Depending on state laws, dog abuse can result in either felony or misdemeanor charges (felonies are crimes that are punishable by prison sentences greater than one year, and result in higher criminal fines than misdemeanors).
The level of punishment that can be ordered varies from state to state. For example, in Florida animal cruelty that results in the death or repeated harm of an animal is considered a third-degree felony. The perpetrator can be charged with up to 5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. In Idaho, abusing an animal can be considered a felony punishable by up to 3 years in prison and a $5,000 fine. Causing the death or serious physical injury to working dogs can result in up to 5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Sometimes the penalty is even stronger. In 2004, a man named David Tant received a 40 year prison sentence after being caught breeding 30 fighting dogs.
Some cases make the headlines. Former NFL running back LeShon Johnson was sentenced to 5 years in prison after 200 fighting dogs were found on his property. This also led to the arrest and conviction of 20 other people. NFL quarterback Michael Vick operated a dog fighting business in multiple states. He was charged under federal law, and was sentenced to 21 months of prison. He was also banned from ever playing NFL football again.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Dog Abuse Charges?
Dog abuse is a serious offense and can lead to some very strict criminal penalties. It may be in your best interests to hire a criminal law attorney in your area if you need any type of legal assistance with dog abuse laws.
Your attorney can provide you with legal representation, advice, and guidance for various types of dog abuse cases. Also, if you have any specific questions or issues, your attorney can address those as well.