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How Do the Courts Handle Animal Cruelty and Neglect Cases?


Animal cruelty and neglect are illegal, but courts across the nation see animals as property. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), this can make protecting animals extremely difficult. Even if someone is charged with the crime of animal cruelty or neglect, the person’s rights are still prioritized over the animal’s rights.

According to the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, states cannot deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. This means law enforcement officers cannot permanently take someone’s pet away from them until they are formally charged and convicted of a crime. As a result, shelters often “hold” abused animals until the legal process finishes. If the defendant is convicted, the animal may be rehomed or adopted by someone else, but if the court finds the defendant “not guilty,” the shelter will be forced to return the animal.

Animal Laws Are Changing

As time goes on, the way courts handle animals, in general, is beginning to change. For example, some courts recognize “pet custody” cases and help divorcing couples sort out the ownership of their pets. Similarly, the penalties for animal cruelty and neglect have increased.

Still, many complaints of animal abuse or neglect are not taken seriously because the courts see animals as property – not as people.

How to Report Animal Cruelty and Neglect

If you suspect animal cruelty or neglect, call your local animal control agency as soon as possible. You can also call 9-1-1, especially if the situation is urgent or you are currently witnessing violence against an animal.

Keep in mind that your local law enforcement agency may not be equipped to deal with animal cruelty cases. If you do not have a local animal welfare agency, and authorities are not able to respond, you can always contact the Humane Society of the United States.

McIntyre Tate LLP is also a proud member of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, and our attorneys take animal cruelty and neglect seriously. We are committed to doing everything we can to protect animals from abuse.

If you need help ensuring a case of animal abuse or neglect is prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, do not hesitate to call us at (401) 351-7700 or contact us online.