Like millions of other Americans, I am the proud parent of two adorable fur babies — my shih tzu, Titus, and my cat, Dale. My pets are my family, so it’s hard for me to write about animal cruelty.
A common question people have about prisons is related to this topic. Therefore, I will restrain my emotions and try my best to answer today’s question: Can I go to jail for killing a dog?
In today’s blog post, I will cover the following topics:
- Animal cruelty laws vary by state
- When is it legal to kill a dog
- Notable Cases of Animal Cruelty
Animal cruelty laws vary by state
Animal cruelty has different definitions in different states. Normally, this is considered a misdemeanor, but all 50 states have statutes that make animal cruelty a felony if the conditions specified by law are met. Which means today’s question – would you go to jail for killing a dog? – the answer is “yes”.
For example, in California, animal cruelty is defined as:
“Maliciously and willfully mutilating, mutilating, torturing or injuring a live animal, or maliciously and willfully killing an animal; overloading, overloading, driving while overloaded, overworking, torturing, torturing, depriving necessary food, drink or shelter, brutally beating, mutilate or cruelly kill any animal, or cause or cause any animal to be so treated.”
If someone were charged with this crime in California, it could be a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the severity. The penalty is a fine of up to $20,000 and/or imprisonment of up to one year.
In Missouri, animal cruelty is defined as:
“Willingly or willfully killing an animal; willfully or intentionally causing injury or suffering to an animal; or knowingly possessing or having custody of an animal without adequate care or proper control.”
The word that differentiates animal cruelty from animal neglect is “intentional.” Neglecting an animal can land the animal owner several days in jail and a $500 fine. However, cruelty includes “the deliberate infliction of torture or mutilation, or both, while the animal is alive.” This can be a Class D felony and can send someone up to five years in prison.
Exemptions apply to “care or treatment by a licensed veterinarian, legitimate scientific experimentation, hunting, fishing, trapping, zoo, rodeo, humane killing, animal husbandry, killing of an animal that attacks or injures a person other than its owner” hounds property, pest and field trials, training and hunting practices. “
To see specific laws regarding animal cruelty in your state, Click here.
When is it legal to kill a dog
Although cruelty and cruelty to animals is illegal in all 50 states and can send someone to jail if convicted, there is a legal basis for killing dogs.
Dogs, cats, and other domestic animals are considered property under the law. This means that when someone kills someone else’s dog, they may have to pay the owner back. They may also face criminal charges for animal cruelty and/or criminal property damage.
Exceptions are written into state and local laws in specific cases. Animal cruelty laws make it a crime to kill dogs “unnecessarily” or “without justification.” But you can kill a dog in self-defense or to protect others from harm.
However, it is not legal to shoot a dog just for biting, barking or growling. You must reasonably believe that killing or injuring a dog is necessary to prevent serious injury or immediate threat.
Legal language on this topic varies from state to state. That means the circumstances surrounding killing a dog matter a lot. In some states, you can kill a dog even if it didn’t attack someone. In other cases, this is not the case.
For example, a Pennsylvania statute states that if a dog is seen chasing or attacking a person or other domestic animal, it can be killed. In New York, you can’t kill a dog for trespassing on your property, but you can if it endangers children.
Many states do have laws regarding animals and farming. Some allow farmers or others to kill dogs that chase, harass, or injure their livestock or other animals.
Some states also allow the killing of dogs based on past behavior if the dog is known to be a danger to “life, limb or property.” These are known as “dangerous dog laws”. Often these cases are referred to local authorities, such as animal control.
Animal control officials usually have the authority to detain and euthanize dogs that pose a threat based on past behavior. Citizens generally don’t have the legal right to kill dogs simply because they don’t like them or feel uncomfortable around them.
Although dogs and other pets are considered property, in most states there are severe penalties for harming domestic animals.
Notable Cases of Animal Cruelty
I honestly can’t do much research on famous animal cruelty cases because my heart can’t take it. However, I thought I’d mention a famous case about dogs and abuse – Michael Vick and Bad Newz Kennels.
Back in 2008, NFL quarterback Michael Vick and three others were convicted on federal and state charges related to illegal dog fighting. The pro athlete and his associates ran what they called “Bad Newz Kennels” on a Virginia property owned by Vick — raising and training dozens of pit bulls, staging dogfighting contests, killing dogs, and running a casino lock up.
In the federal indictment, Vick is accused of slaying dogs that behaved poorly during “testing.” Methods used included hanging, drowning, shooting and electrocution.
Vic and his accomplices eventually pleaded guilty to dog fighting and each received a three-year suspended sentence. Vic also had to pay a fine of about $3,000.
How do you think cruelty to animals should be punished? Should it include long prison terms? Let us know in the comments below.
Sources: When it's legal to kill a dog Animal Cruelty laws state by state Can I Kill a Terminally Sick Pet Myself, or Do I Need a Veterinarian? Case Study: Animal Fighting Michael Vick