Animal Law

Animal Cruelty

By: Clark, Campbell, Lancaster & Munson, P.A.

Q: It appears animal cruelty is on the rise. What laws are in place to protect these animals?

A: For years, compassion for animals and anger toward abuse have been triggered by circus elephant acts, killer whales in confinement, and greyhound races. But, partly because the law allows these exhibitions, only recently have we heard of changes, such as Ringling Brothers voluntarily retiring its elephants. The Florida legislature continues to expand protections for animals, including this month by taking a look at bills to protect greyhounds and horses involved in racing, with some lobbying groups trying to make greyhound racing unprofitable.

An extensive set of animal cruelty laws exist, primarily protecting livestock, dogs, and cats from the more horrifying stories we have heard recently, like animals being tied to railroad tracks or hung to death. A “zombie cat” allegedly buried alive was taken into possession by an animal welfare organization. While individuals could be accused of theft for taking another’s pet away regardless of suspected abuse, Florida allows certain organizations (in addition to law enforcement) to have an agent appointed for that purpose. When an animal is seized, a court hearing follows to determine whether the animal will be returned.

With limited exceptions, animal cruelty includes allowing any “unnecessary or unjustifiable pain or suffering”. Tormenting, starving, and mutilating all fall within this term and are at least a first degree misdemeanor (up to $5,000 fine / 1 year imprisonment) and as much as a third degree felony (up to $10,000 fine / 5 years imprisonment) for repeated, intentional acts, acts that result in death, or being any part of dog fighting (breeding, training, owning, promoting, betting, attending, or otherwise). Additional specific offenses prohibited by law include keeping a dog confined without exercise, abandoning in a public place, lassoing of horses for entertainment or sport, engaging in simulated bullfight exhibitions, allowing others to be exposed to a known contagious animal, and artificially coloring an animal under 12 weeks of age.

Contact animal control or other local law enforcement if you suspect animal cruelty is occurring in your neck of the woods.


The April 9th edition of “The Law” will celebrate National Public Health Week and address the dichotomy between science and the law on the issue of GMOs.

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