Legally Brief: Felony Laws are a Victory for Animals

Posted by Stephen Wells, ALDF Executive Director on March 27, 2014

Legally Brief

We’ve had some great news for animals recently: Canada has agreed to phase out gestation crates and Kentucky has banned veal crates. Animal advocates have also defeated 3 out of 4 ag gag bills so far this year, helped stop horse-slaughter on US soil, and Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York and other cities banned the sale of puppy mill puppies in pet stores. And just this month, South Dakota became the 50th state to pass a felony anti-cruelty law.

This is great news for animals: without felony penalties for animal cruelty, no matter how egregious or repeated the animal abuse crime, it can only be treated like a minor infraction. When I joined the Animal Legal Defense Fund 15 years ago, getting all states on the felony anti-cruelty map was a major goal. At that time, only about thirty states had these provisions. In fact, ALDF created the annual state rankings report in 2006 to shed light on such deficiencies. Since then, most states have made significant improvement in their animal protection laws, many with ALDF help—and now, finally, all states have felony penalties for animal cruelty.

Felony penalties play a crucial role in the criminal justice system when it comes to fighting animal abuse. Just this week, a Brooklyn man received a one-year jail term for felony animal cruelty after he set a cat named Michael on fire. ALDF’s reward offer helped lead to a conviction in this sad but all too common case. That is why we are thrilled that all states now have felony penalties.

But there is still more work to be done. In recent years, South Dakota has been at the very bottom of ALDF’s annual state rankings—47th in 2012 and 48th in 2013—making it one of the “best” states to be an animal abuser. At the time of our 2013 annual report, South Dakota had no felony provision for animal cruelty, neglect, or abandonment, lacked increased penalties when animal abuse is committed in front of children, and had no requirements for mental health counseling or requirements for veterinarians to report suspected abuse.

Media reports spread the news of South Dakota’s dismal rank in ALDF’s annual rankings and this helped spur the passage of the felony penalty. In many ways, it demonstrates how state legislatures across the country have begun to enact laws that reflect the humane values of the American electorate. Several jurisdictions, like Washington, Oregon, and Puerto Rico, have adopted legal provisions written by ALDF. Our model laws continue to be a resource and encourage further improvements in each state.

ALDF’s state rankings show that legislative weaknesses in the bottom-tiered states include inadequate standards of basic care for animals, limited authority given to humane officers, and a lack of mandatory reporting when veterinarians suspect animal cruelty. On the other hand, states who top the charts with stiff animal protection laws, including Illinois, Oregon, Michigan, Maine, and California, demonstrate commitment to combating animal cruelty. The report analyzes more than 4,000 pages of statutes, tracks fifteen broad categories of provisions, and reveals the states where animal law is most effective, and the states where abusers get off easy.

Enacting felony provisions is a huge step forward for South Dakota, and we welcome them into the fold. To help states improve their laws, the Animal Legal Defense Fund provides assistance to local animal protection organizations seeking to improve state laws—and our report is the longest-running and most authoritative of its kind. Check out ALDF’s state rankings report to see how your state fares in animal protection laws, where it can improve, and what you can do to help make these changes happen.

54 thoughts on “Legally Brief: Felony Laws are a Victory for Animals

  1. Sly Stevens says:

    Yea,for your hard work. I speak for these animals they are on this earth to help and share their love and knowledge. Not to be tortured, beaten, neglected, abandoned, starved,and or murdered. These people need to be punished even if it is death. They should have to pay for vet bills and pain and suffering for each act and each animal. Wish they had courthouse for animal cases.Good luck bless you and our animal friends/families. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

    1. Sadie Jones says:

      I agree. The law should warn against animal abuse. Also put them in jail. Animal have a right for freedom

  2. Stephanie Hyde says:

    I wish beastiality was a felony in all 50 states.

  3. Dawn Friello says:

    Did the animal felony pass yet in NYS? I haven’t seen anything

  4. Isabelle Conner says:

    Thank you for all your hard work The abuser’s need pay for what they have done, maybe then abusers will think before they abuse and/or kill innocent animals….This is a step in the right direction. Thank you for all the hard work
    sincerely a caring activist
    Isabelle Conner

    1. Sadie Jones says:

      I agree with you

  5. Kelly Mcconaha says:

    People who hurt animals will hurt people given the chance. There needs to be stiff penalties to help this problem.

  6. Randi says:

    Its time for something like this to be passed. so sad these animals wind up in such horrible homes. Now the puppy mills need to be stopped and these people be charged a felony too.

  7. Carolyn Venditti says:

    Why don’t puppy mills fall under the abuse laws? And what will it take to make sure stricter sentencing is passed down?

    1. Jason says:

      I’m pretty sure the harsh ones fall under this this actual neglect puppy mills, you can’t drop all “puppy mills” into this category, I know a breeder that has 2500 dogs and he gets a clean bill of health on his dogs every inspection.

      1. Mear says:

        Jason, 2500 dogs? Come on… How can all those dogs be taken care of appropriately?? It’s impossible. I bet an “unannounced visit” from the SPCA or the dog officer would report a totally different scenario. That is just disgusting and the person is just money hungry…another puppy mill.

      2. Kate says:

        How much is he paying the inspector to give that clean bill of health? Caging 2500 dogs is unacceptable. How do they get any attention. Do they get to exercise outdoors freely? How many litters do they have? One right after another? I pray all puppy mills are done away with. A breeder who is reputable and is licensed and inspected regularly should only be allowed no more than six dogs.

  8. I volunteer at an animal shelter with the cats and dogs. I’m happy that all 50 states have finally passed the laws making it a felony to abuse or neglect animals. Its about time. Tired of hearing about animal abuse and mistreatment. I love animals. I work with them every now and then at the shelter and adore the animals. I love working with them.

  9. Judy says:

    Is Alaska included ? It’s horrific here ! Also now we need people to actually enforce the laws , it does no good to have laws if they are not enforced .. And what about bestiality ? I heard several stories and nothing has been done ? Happy this has happened but it foes no good without enforcement !

  10. Eileen says:

    Thank you so much for all your hard work. I wish I could work and dedicate my life to the cause. Maybe some day. But I do what I can.

  11. cindycardoza says:

    I would like to know when they would make it a felony here in Az? There’s felonies n other states, those ppl who love to harm animals, can come here n Az n get away with with this sick madness!!! :'(

  12. laurie sparrow says:

    Thank you, ADLF, this would not have happened without your input. I am happy that animal cruelty will now be treated as a felony in 50 states! People need to learn that you can’t abuse animals and get away with it, that animal cruelty will not be tolerated.

  13. Tiffany Miller says:

    This is clearly not including OH. We have no felony laws for companion animals and it took seven years to pass Nitros Law, only protecting business/kennel licenses, and felony is an option.

  14. alison ferro says:

    Thank You for all the hard work you put forth for our fellow animal’s. I have been saying all along that until they make it a felony to abuse an animal they walk away with a slap on the wrist, which just makes me sick. An eye for an eye I say!!!!!!!

  15. Leah says:

    This country needs a registry for every state – to be shared by all to protect non humans from the abuser!

  16. anne oliver says:

    what can be done to ban the sales of puppy mills through private owners advertising in newspapers?
    This is very common “pure breed” advertising
    in local newspapers ib Los Angeles CALIFORNIA.
    Does this fall within the boundary of the law?

  17. Donna Kruppenbach says:

    Is it true that Pennsylvania is a felony for animal abuse? I was not aware that this went through.

  18. Bonnie says:

    Glad to hear it is a felony to harm these innocent animals, but I to believe bestiality should be a felony. We also must stop the heinous crimes being committed against those being used for food (yuck).
    I do not know how much longer it will take for people to realize eating animals is bad for them, but to make them suffer and be tortured before they are murdered is repulsive and MUST STOP PERIOD!

  19. Rose Kopp says:

    Thank You So much for your hard work, Its Time we take a stand to protect our animals, We need to get these abusers off the street and show them how it feels to get abused. I would like to see them feel the pain they put on animals, thank you again

  20. dee Leachman says:

    does this mean, that the felons actually get prosecuted, or do they get a plea deal like M vick,?

  21. Judy Sumpter says:

    Is this an Animal RIGHTS group or Animal WELFARE group? There is a BIG difference, you know!

    1. Billi Taylor says:

      Hi Judy & all, I’m very happy with all the hard work which has been done. I equate both animal rights & animal welfare as being the same goal, doing what you can for animals. Could you tell me what the big difference is please? I’d like to know the details & learn something. Thank you if you have the time to reply.

  22. tony roe says:

    I need to know the laws for Texas as I have taken a pit bull from an abuser who agreed it was best, But he is and deserves the law to look at it and decide if he should face prosecution.. I say he should but im not the law…

  23. Fran Leard says:

    It’s about time the criminals are charged with animal cruelty and torture. Why did it take so long for this to be implement?

  24. Robby says:

    What about the cruelty that happens to most if not all animals at factory farms?

  25. sedna says:

    Fantastic work, ALDF! Next we need laws where the punishment fits the crime: be done unto as you do. That would be a huge deterrent.

  26. sedna says:

    I do wonder about some of the other comments; I read stories all the time of animal abuse being a misdemeanor in many states, especially the deep South…

  27. ruby Hernandez says:

    Thank god for this♡♡ animals DO deserve to be respected also … now finally abusers will pay back in jail….. deserve what they get for what they do

  28. bouhlal says:

    Is there something ongoing for dogs massively killed with cruelty in romania? ??

  29. Deanna says:

    So happy to see this I luv all animals this just made my day it’s about time

  30. Beverly says:

    I have recently been terminated as a volunteer by my local SPCA for asking why they have high euthanasia rates.Their live return rate is 55%. How do I find an animal rights attorney in California?

    1. Suzy Hayes says:

      Beverly, Your time may be better spent EDUCATING “pet owners” on the importance of SPAYING & NEUTERING. As a Licensed Wildlife Rehabber of 25 plus years, I can tell you that almost 25% of all wildlife I rehab have been CAT MAULED. Unfortunately during the spring months I trap MANY cats, which people have DUMPED thus creating DEATH & SUFFERING for the many species of INDIGENOUS WILDLIFE which I rehab &/or invite to my property. The SPCA and ALL Animal Shelters (County funded & Non-Profit) have “high euthanasia rates” due to IRRESPONSIBLE/UNEDUCATED pet owners, NOTHING MORE!

  31. Gina Pocan says:

    Congratulations in the success for your tireless hard work.You are soldiers in your own right. I just hope and pray that this gets enforced. I am happy to hear this great news. Now, all we need is a National Data bases for repeat offenders.

  32. Barbara Lowe says:

    I think its wonderful, but the only way I see a drop in animal cruelty is to do the same thing to them as they did to the animal. A slap on the hand doesn’t do it !!

  33. Emily Losasso says:

    This is absolutely incredible! I seriously can’t be any happier! My whole life has been dedicated to animals and their well- being. I currently am studying to become an Lobyist for Animal Welfare, and reaching this accomplishment was my main goal, thankfully it’s already been passed :) Now I can continue my dream and help progress the lives of animals in any, and as many, ways I possibly can. Let’s all keep up the amazing hard work!
    Emily Losasso

  34. Steffi says:

    That’s wonderful! Now to actually get to court with the abuser and make those felony charges stick, along with the highest penalties possible!

  35. This is truly great news. I am the president of Canine Comfort, Inc. in Aniak, Alaska. Our state laws are only 2/3 of a page long. City ordinances are much longer but unenforceable due to the inability to hold people accountable. CCI came about when three women decided to help homeless female dogs and their puppies have a better chance at life. Dogs die of exposure and starvation on their chains in the owners yards. There is a total lack of compassion toward animals here in “BUSH” Alaska. Alaska state laws are an embarrassment! I have been a huge fan of ALDF, Please help Alaska into the 21st century where the children and their pets can learn a better way of life. Thank You.

  36. Mear Conrad says:

    This is wonderful news! Finally our fur babies are getting a voice…no more silent suffering. Karma has finally pawed its way into the court system and it is about time!

  37. Kathy says:

    This isn’t totally foolproof, though I wish it WAS! Just recently in our county someone CONVICTED of Animal Cruelty was excused from jail time they were sentenced to, and allowed to GO HOME (no court appeal)…because they were “too sick to be in jail” ?????

  38. I live in Europe but I am glad about this and I hope that other countries follow suit.Animals should be protected.

  39. Billie Nolen says:

    Animal abuse has gone unpunished way too long–should definitely be a felony in every state. People should also be fined who do not have their animals neutered or spayed.

  40. Vicki Vance says:

    About time very happy about this!!!

  41. JOAN HUNTLEY says:


  42. Lora Jansson says:

    If this is true than why is bear baiting still going on in South Carolina? This has been in place for a while? Why, then, is this barbaric sport/spectator event still in existence? Thanks for any info.

  43. Alice Vallejo says:

    I was part of a group of concerned citizens who sat in on a sententcing for a horrible cruelty case in Wichita Falls TX not very long ago. We were told it was a max of a class A misdemeanor .I have never heard that TX Has changed its sentencing to a possibility of a Felony for cruelty. Please say this is true!!!!

  44. Robin says:

    This is not true in morrisville, pa! My neighbors dog has been tormented, teased and threatened for a year now by a man down the road who works for the borough.There has been 3 prior police reports and now the fourth incident being he beat the dog with a golf club repeatedly in the dogs own yard! He claims the dog was off his lead and bit him! I witnessed the dog on the lead all day up until minutes prior of the assault! Along with several other witnesses hearing him scream i hope i killed it! And absolutely no charges were filed even with this mans history with this dog! It is appalling and heartbreaking what this disturbed, evil man has been allowed to get away with because he works for morrisville borough!!!!

  45. Brooke Morris says:

    It brought tears to my eyes when I read this. It is about time that innocence was granted a voice. People who fight for animal rights are a God send in my eyes.

  46. Jonathan Smith says:

    It’s great to hear that these people are being punished although it doesn’t seem to be happening in Louisiana. I contacted the Sheriff’s Department and Humane Society about my younger brother leaving 3 registered Chow Chow dogs and 2 miniature horses without food and water. He was left with that responsibility after my mother died last year. When I contacted the Sheriff’s Department and Humane Society to file a report and pick up the animals. Nothing was done to him. I feel he deserves a fine, prison, or both.

  47. Jenai Herod says:


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