Animal Law Update

Texas and Connecticut Enact Post-Conviction Possession Bans for Animal Cruelty Crimes

By Nicole Pallotta, PhD, Senior Policy Program Manager

Summary: Texas and Connecticut have enacted mandatory animal possession bans of up to five years following certain animal cruelty convictions. In recent years, several states have strengthened their existing possession ban laws or enacted new ones to combat the complex problem of animal abuse recidivism. Twenty-two states now have mandatory possession bans for at least some cruelty offenses, and 20 states have permissive bans, meaning courts are statutorily authorized, but not required, to include possession bans during sentencing for certain crimes against animals. While laudable from an animal protection standpoint, Texas’s new law also covers convictions outside the state, which may raise constitutional issues.

Texas and Connecticut have become the latest states to enact a mandatory animal possession ban following certain cruelty convictions.

Connecticut HB 6714, in addition to any other sentence imposed by the court, “prohibits persons convicted of animal cruelty or having sexual contact with an animal from possessing or working with animals for a period of five years from the date of conviction or release from imprisonment for the offense, whichever is later.” Effective October 1, 2023, Connecticut’s new law also created the new crime of “sexual assault against an animal” and requires that veterinarians report suspected incidents of animal cruelty.

Effective September 1, 2023, HB 598 amends the Texas Penal Code to make it a Class C misdemeanor 1 for anyone previously convicted of certain animal cruelty offenses to “possess or exercise control over an animal” for up to five years. Texas HB 598 strengthens an earlier law enacted in 2021 that statutorily empowered judges to include possession bans (and psychological counseling) in sentences for animal cruelty crimes, but did not require it. This earlier law expanded a 2017 law that criminalized bestiality and applied only to that offense.

As noted by the Texas Humane Legislation Network, the 2021 law was limited in scope compared to other states because:

The ban only covered the animals harmed in the offense and any other animals possessed by the offender at the time of the abuse. Additionally, the Texas ban only applied in cases where the offender was under community supervision (i.e., probation or jail). Once their sentence was served, there was no prohibition on offenders acquiring more animals.

In contrast, Texas HB 598 also covers new animals acquired during the five-year period following the conviction and is independent from any other penalties imposed by the court, such as probation.

Which Crimes are Covered?

Connecticut’s primary cruelty statute recognizes four distinct crimes against animals: cruelty to animals, malicious or intentional cruelty to animals, animal fighting, and intentionally injuring or killing police animals or search and rescue dogs. The mandatory five-year possession ban applies to these offenses in addition to the new crime of sexual assault against animals. 2

Texas’s cruelty law has separate provisions for cruelty to “livestock” and “non-livestock” animals.3 It also has provisions for dog fighting, cockfighting, attacks on assistance animals, and bestiality. HB 598 applies to all but cruelty to “livestock” animals and cockfighting (bestiality was already included in an earlier version of the law and remains covered). It also extends beyond Texas to cover “any similar offense under federal law or a penal law of another state.”4

Thus, the possession ban covers all animal cruelty crimes, both within and outside of Texas, except cockfighting and cruelty to farmed animals.

While the fact that Texas’s possession ban applies regardless of jurisdiction is laudable from an animal cruelty policy standpoint, it raises questions about due process — given an individual with a conviction outside Texas may be unaware of Texas’s law5 — and may be susceptible to litigation challenging its constitutionality.6

Elements of Possession Bans

Laws that set limits on having custody of animals following a cruelty conviction are a growing trend, but they vary in strength by state. The strongest laws are mandatory rather than permissive, cover new animals acquired after conviction, and apply to any animal cruelty crime.

Texas is a good example of a state that has strengthened its law. In 2017, it was permissive, applied only to bestiality, and was limited to animals possessed at the time of the offense. In 2021, it was expanded to include additional animal cruelty crimes. In 2023, it has been strengthened to be mandatory and cover future possession of animals.

While a significant improvement, there is room for the law to be further strengthened by covering all of the cruelty crimes recognized in Texas’s penal code — including cruelty to “livestock” animals and cockfighting. As noted above, its application to convictions outside Texas may also leave the law vulnerable to legal challenge. Connecticut’s similar law — and every other possession ban in the U.S.—covers convictions only within that state.

An Effective Intervention

Given the nature of animal cruelty crimes, there is high likelihood an individual will repeat the abusive behavior with other animals. Possession bans are an effective legal intervention because they are aimed at prevention.

Animal hoarding in particular — of special importance from a prevention standpoint as it involves many victims and requires a high volume of community resources to resolve — has a notoriously high recidivism rate due to its common association with untreated mental health issues.7

Psychological evaluations are thus a vital component of sentencing in these cases to address the root cause rather than the symptom. Even then, hoarding behavior is challenging to treat for a number of reasons.8 And without effective treatment this type of offender is likely to repeat the behavior — but only if they have access to animals.9

Yet not all animal cruelty behavior is the result of a psychological disorder,10 including animal hoarding itself. Some animal hoarders, such as those operating puppy mills, are motivated by financial gain, which is less amenable to psychological intervention. Regardless of motivation, possession bans are effective tools to address animal cruelty recidivism as they remove access to animals.11

When animal cruelty is not the result of an underlying and treatable mental health issue, nor callous disregard for animal well-being in pursuit of profit, other rehabilitative measures such as animal care education may help. Animal possession bans work when appropriate in tandem with therapeutic interventions to keep animals out of harm’s way while a psychological evaluation, treatment, or other court-ordered rehabilitation program aimed at addressing the root causes of the abusive behavior can be established.

Focus on Prevention

Some individuals who commit animal cruelty crimes will continue to do so despite receiving psychological counseling, animal care education, fines, probation, and/or jail time. Barring the time when an individual may be incarcerated, meaning they physically do not have access to animals,12 it is easy to obtain more animals.13 Possession bans address the ease with which offenders can and do acquire more animals and simply repeat the abusive behavior with new victims.

The focus on prevention rather than punishment makes these laws effective. While a possession ban may be experienced as punishment by the individual subjected to it after a cruelty conviction, caring for an animal is not a right but a privilege. Minimal though they may be, animal cruelty laws also confer weak rights upon animals, such as the right not to be subject to criminal cruelty or neglect.14

Individuals with convictions for abusing foster children in their care are typically not granted custody of more children. Though not children, animals are dependent members of multispecies families who need legal protection. In addition, people routinely lose their driving privileges for a period of time after engaging in criminally irresponsible behavior involving a vehicle, such as drunk driving. Equal or higher standards should apply when a living being is involved.

Recent Developments

In recent years, several states have strengthened their existing possession ban laws or enacted new ones. At the end of 2023, 22 states had mandatory possession bans, at least for some offenses, and 20 states had permissive bans.

In addition to the legislative developments in Texas and Connecticut, in 2023 Illinois strengthened its existing possession ban law by imposing a penalty for violations and clarifying that such bans can be permanent, while New Mexico criminalized sexual assault of animals and established a new possession ban following convictions for that offense (but not other cruelty crimes).

On the litigation front, the Washington Court of Appeals recently upheld two permanent possession bans in the face of constitutional challenges. In 2023, it affirmed a lifetime ban on dog and horse possession imposed by the trial court on appellants who were convicted of four counts of first degree animal cruelty to three dogs and a horse (and one count of second degree animal cruelty to a cat).15 The Washington Court of Appeals upheld a similar decision in 2022, finding a lifetime prohibition on ownership of similar animals is proportionate to the crime of first degree animal cruelty.16

In 2023, the Supreme Court of the State of New York, Appellate Division, Fourth Judicial Department, upheld a ten-year animal possession ban in a case where the defendant was caught on surveillance video repeatedly striking one of his dogs because he was “frustrated” that the animal failed to come when called. The court held that “considering defendant’s violent actions against his own dog in this incident, we decline to disturb the court’s determination regarding the period of time that the order will remain in effect.”17

Washington has a strong possession ban law, which is mandatory and specifies that a lifetime ban is an option under certain conditions, e.g. conviction for first degree animal cruelty.18 New York’s law is permissive, allowing the court to order a ban for a period of time which the court deems reasonable. Even in the eight states without a possession ban law in place, courts would likely have the authority to impose such a ban as part of probation or other conditional suspended sentence, and parole boards could impose it as a condition of parole.19

However, because terms of probation and parole are significantly shorter than the average possession ban (which is five years but in some states can be imposed for life in cases of egregious cruelty), legislation is a better solution. In addition, courts may be unaware of this option, so animal protection laws with clear and enforceable provisions are generally preferable.20


Possession bans — in tandem with psychological evaluation and targeted rehabilitative measures when appropriate — are one of the most effective legal interventions in cases of animal cruelty because of their pragmatic focus. Fines and jail time, which are intended in part to deter future offenses, do not prevent individuals convicted of animal cruelty from acquiring another animal and subjecting them to the same treatment. In addition, there is little evidence that harsher penalties such as incarceration achieve the objectives of either general or specific deterrence.21To the contrary, research has shown that the harshness of sanctions is not correlated with reduced crime or recidivism (Bargaric, Kotzmann, and Wolf 2019, p. 2).22

In contrast, possession bans serve the practical purpose of removing access to potential victims, and allow law enforcement to intervene quickly to help at-risk animals, for a period of time following a conviction for animal cruelty. Thus they are an important, commonsense legal tool to protect vulnerable animals and combat the complex problem of animal abuse recidivism.

Further Reading/Listening

  1. Subsequent violations become a Class B misdemeanor. The penalty for a Class C misdemeanor is a fine of up to $500. The penalty for a Class B misdemeanor is a fine of up to $2,000, jail time not to exceed 180 days, or both (
  2. The provision for “malicious or intentional cruelty to animals” includes several exemptions including standard veterinary practices, approved methods of slaughter, medical research, generally accepted agricultural practices, and lawful killing of wildlife.
  3. Defined as “a domesticated living creature, including any stray or feral cat or dog, and a wild living creature previously captured. The term does not include an uncaptured wild living creature or a livestock animal.”
  4. Though included in an earlier draft of the bill, cockfighting was removed from the final version. Unfortunately, animal protection laws often contain explicit or implicit exceptions for animals used in agriculture.
  5. For example, a resident of Oklahoma, which borders Texas and does not have a possession ban law, could be convicted of neglecting their dog, move a few miles away into Texas with that dog—or even just take their dog for a walk in Texas— and suddenly be committing a misdemeanor without realizing it.
  6. Akin to the Fourteenth Amendment issues discussed in Lambert v. People of the State of California, 355 U.S. 225 (1957).
  7. While not currently attached to one specific psychiatric disorder, researchers have linked animal hoarding to dementia, delusional disorder, addictive behavior, attachment disorder, and obsessive compulsive disorder.
  8. These challenges include the diverse psychopathologies that underlie hoarding behavior and the multidisciplinary framework and high level of coordination typically required among multiple service agencies to effectively intervene. See: Castrodale, Louisa, Yvonne M. Bellay, Catherine M. Brown, Fredric L. Cantor, John D. Gibbins, Marcia L. Headrick, Mira J. Leslie, et al. 2010. “General Public Health Considerations for Responding to Animal Hoarding Cases.” Journal of Environmental Health. 72:7; Reinisch AI. 2008. “Understanding the human aspects of animal hoarding. The Canadian Veterinary Journal. 49:12. 
  9. In the absence of ongoing treatment and monitoring, some estimates put the recidivism rate for animal hoarding at close to 100%. See: Patronek GJ, Loar L, Nathanson JN, eds. 2006. Animal Hoarding: Structuring Interdisciplinary Responses to Help People, Animals, and Communities at Risk. Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium;  Almendarez, Jolene. “Cornell vet: Recidivism in animal hoarding is nearly 100 percent.” The Ithaca Voice. December 16, 2015.
  10. Animal hoarding itself can have diverse motivations and is not always due to mental illness. The primary motivation of “exploiter hoarders” is to breed animals for profit. For more on the distinction between types of animal hoarders. See: Patronek GJ, Loar L, Nathanson JN, eds. 2006. Animal Hoarding: Structuring Interdisciplinary Responses to Help People, Animals, and Communities at Risk. Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium.
  11. On the mixed motivations for animal cruelty, see Hensley, C., & Tallichet, S. E. (2005). “Animal Cruelty Motivations: Assessing Demographic and Situational Influences.” Journal of Interpersonal Violence. 20:11; Kellert, S. R., & Felthous, A. R. 1985. “Childhood cruelty toward animals among criminals and noncriminals.” Human Relations. 38:12.
  12. Although it removes access to animals, long-term incarceration is not a viable solution to the problem of animal cruelty for many reasons.
  13. See, e.g.: Animal Legal Defense Fund’s “Craigslist Pet Ads: What You’ll See, How to Reply, and What to Expect in Response” and PETA’s “‘Free to a Good Home’ = Death and Despair for Animals on Craigslist.”
  14. This applies only in cases where the law is clear the animal, and not the animal’s legal owner, is the victim. For more on the concept of weak versus strong animal rights, see Stucki, Saskia, 2020. “Towards a Theory of Legal Animal Rights: Simple and Fundamental Rights.” Oxford Journal of Legal Studies. 40:3.
  15. State of Washington v. Thelma Winger (
  16. State of Washington v. John Frederick Doll (; see also:
  17. People v. Minutolo (
  18. See RCW 16.52.200:

    (4) Any person convicted of animal cruelty shall be prohibited from owning, caring for, possessing, or residing with any animals for a period of time as follows:

    (a) Two years for a first conviction of animal cruelty in the second degree under RCW 16.52.207;

    (b) Permanently for a first conviction of animal cruelty in the first degree under RCW 16.52.205;

    (c) Permanently for a second or subsequent conviction of animal cruelty, except as provided in subsection (5) of this section.

  19. See: “Sentencing for Animal Cruelty Crimes, Animal Legal Defense Fund Position Statement.”
  20. The Animal Legal Defense Fund’s model possession ban law contains a petitioning procedure for early termination of a possession ban—adapted from California’s law but without the problematic farmed animal exemption—if the person can show that they have been rehabilitated and no longer pose a risk to animals.
  21. General deterrence is aimed at preventing crime among the general population whereas specific deterrence focuses on preventing future crimes by an individual.
  22. Bagaric, Mirko, Kotzmann, Jane, and Wolf, Gabrielle. 2019. “A Rational Approach to Sentencing Offenders for Animal Cruelty: A Normative and Scientific Analysis Underpinning Proportionate Penalties for Animal Cruelty Offenders.” South Carolina Law Review: 71:2. “Pursuant to a model sentencing system, offenders who commit the most serious animal cruelty crimes might still receive prison sentences, but they would not need to be particularly lengthy given that research has shown that incarceration does not lower the rate of commission of crimes or recidivism” (p. 40). On general and specific deterrence, see p. 15.

How We Work