State Animal Cruelty Laws

Photo by Tick-Tock/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by Tick-Tock/iStock / Getty Images

Anti-cruelty statutes do not give animals legal rights, but these laws are the main form of legal protection afforded to animals in our society. The first anti-cruelty statute was enacted in America in 1641 by the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Article 92 in its legal code, called the “Body of Liberties,” stated that “No man shall exercise any Tyranny or Cruelty towards any creature which is usually kept for man’s use.” Today, anti-cruelty laws exist at both the state and federal levels. The Animal Welfare Act provides the principal protection at the federal level. Every state has enacted its own unique law prohibiting cruel treatment of animals.

The intent of anti-cruelty laws is twofold. First, these laws seek to protect animals from mistreatment by imposing a penalty for such behavior. Second, anti-cruelty laws are intended to conserve public morals by deterring all forms of violent human behavior. It is now generally known that cruelty to living creatures leads to other forms of violent behavior. Although each state has authored its own law, these statutes do share some common provisions. For example, prohibit abandonment, poisoning, and failure to supply animals with food, water and shelter. Since cruelty to animals is a statutory offense, whether a person’s behavior constitutes cruelty depends upon the language of the statute. If a statute includes terms such as “intentionally,” or “knowingly,” the prosecution must show that the person committed the cruelty with intent. This is often difficult to prove and can lead to acquittal. If a statute does not include a qualifier such as “knowingly,” then the offender is strictly liable for the crime without regard to his or her mental state.

Animal Cruelty Laws in Texas

In past years, many people have gotten away with animal abuse and neglect of their pets. According to Texas penal code section 42.11, Cruelty to Animals is defined as:

… Torturing or seriously overworking an animal
… Failing to provide necessary food, care or shelter for an animal in his custody
… Abandoning without a cause an animal in his custody
… Transporting or confining an animal in a cruel manner
… Killing, injuring, or administering poison to an animal
… Causing one animal to fight with another

For purpose of this section, “animal” means a domesticated living creature and wild living creature previously captured. “Animal” does not include an uncaptured wild creature or a wild creature whose capture was accomplished by conduct at issue under this section.

Animal cruelty offenders are subject to be convicted of a Class A Misdemeanor, a fine up to $4,000 or imprisonment up to 1 year. The third offense is subject to State Jail Felony, a fine up to $10,000 or 180 days to 2 years imprisonment.

Stop the Insanity

Citizens who suspect animal cruelty should observe characteristics of the animal and her environment. Does the animal have access to food, water and shelter? Is her area clean? Does the animal have apparent injuries that have not been treated? Does the animal appear to be overly aggressive or timid?

A person witnessing first-degree animal cruelty – the intentional infliction of substantial pain or injury to an animal, or the killing of an animal by means causing undue suffering – should immediately notify police (call 311). Documenting the incident with photographs and videotape can be very helpful in prosecution. If such cruelty is not witnessed directly but is suspected, animal control authorities should be notified. Reports of animal cruelty should be as detailed as possible. Dates, times and circumstances should be noted and related to animal control authorities, who should also be made aware of any physical evidence (photos, video, etc.). A person reporting animal cruelty should ask for the name of the animal control officer and ask what action is planned. Follow up, and report any change observed in the animal’s condition and situation.

A person reporting animal cruelty need not be concerned with confidentiality. An investigating officer is not likely to identify the source of the complaint. Should the keeper of the animal be prosecuted, witnesses may be called to testify, but the immediate condition of the animal should outweigh concerns about having to testify months from now.

Abandoning an animal constitutes second-degree animal cruelty. A witness to animal abandonment should try to obtain a description of the abandoning person and their vehicle, and a license plate number if possible. If the witness feels safe in doing so, the animal should be transported to a safe location, or animal control authorities should be notified.

To report animal cruelty call 3-1-1