Cruelty to animals
(Colorado 18-9-202 C.R.S.)

lonely dog in rusty cage

Colorado's animal cruelty law

Colorado's law on cruelty to animals punishes a wide range of actions, including the intentional abandonment of a dog or cat.

However, cruelty to animals is usually a misdemeanor in Colorado, with a maximum of 18 months in jail. And anger management courses are often ordered instead of jail time.

To help you better under Colorado's animal cruelty laws, our Colorado criminal defense lawyers discuss the following, below:

starving dog with ribs showing

1. What constitutes cruelty to animals in Colorado?

Section 18-9-202 of the Colorado Revised Statutes defines cruelty to animals quite broadly. Under 18-9-202 C.R.S. it is a crime to intentionally, knowingly, recklessly, or even negligently do any of the following:

  • Torture, needlessly mutilate, or needlessly kill an animal,
  • Overdrive, overload, or overwork an animal, 
  • Torment an animal, 
  • Deprive an animal of necessary sustenance, 
  • Unnecessarily or cruelly beat an animal, 
  • Allow an animal to be housed in a manner that results in chronic or repeated serious physical harm,
  • Carry or confine an animal in or upon any vehicles in a cruel or reckless manner, 
  • Engage in a sexual act with an animal,
  • Fail to provide an animal in your care or custody with proper food, drink, or protection trom the weather consistent with the species, breed, and type of animal involved,
  • Abandon an animal (including a dog or cat if intentionally abandoned), or
  • Otherwise mistreat or neglect any animal, or cause or procure it to be done.

When the violation of 18-9-202 C.R.S. involves a service animal or certified police working dog -- whether or not the animal is on duty – the crime is known as “cruelty to a service animal or a certified police working dog.”

1.1. Aggravated cruelty to animals

A violation of 18-9-202 C.R.S. increases to aggravated cruelty to animals if you knowingly torture, needlessly mutilate, or needlessly kill an animal.

1.2. The meaning of “mistreatment,” “neglect,” and “serious physical harm”

18-9-201 C.R.S. defines certain words in Colorado's animal cruelty statute as follows:

“Mistreatment” means every act or omission that causes or unreasonably permits the continuation of unnecessary or unjustifiable pain or suffering.

“Neglect” means failure to provide food, water, protection from the elements, or other care generally considered to be normal, usual, and accepted for an animal's health and well-being consistent with the species, breed, and type of animal.

“Serious physical harm” means any of the following:

  • Any physical harm that carries a substantial risk of death;
  • Any physical harm that causes permanent maiming or that involves some temporary, substantial maiming; or
  • Any physical harm that causes acute pain of a duration that results in substantial suffering.

1.3. The meaning of “intentionally,” “knowingly,” “recklessly,” and “negligently”

18-1-501 C.R.S. sets forth the state of mind required to commit a Colorado crime, including cruelty to animals. It provides:

“Intentionally” or “with intent”

All offenses defined in this code in which the mental culpability requirement is expressed as “intentionally” or “with intent” are declared to be specific intent offenses. A person acts “intentionally” or “with intent” when his conscious objective is to cause the specific result proscribed by the statute defining the offense. It is immaterial to the issue of specific intent whether or not the result actually occurred.

“Knowingly” or “willfully”

All offenses defined in this code in which the mental culpability requirement is expressed as “knowingly” or “willfully” are declared to be general intent crimes. A person acts “knowingly” or “willfully” with respect to conduct or to a circumstance described by a statute defining an offense when he is aware that his conduct is of such nature or that such circumstance exists. A person acts “knowingly” or “willfully”, with respect to a result of his conduct, when he is aware that his conduct is practically certain to cause the result.

“Recklessly”

A person acts recklessly when he consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that a result will occur or that a circumstance exists.

“Criminal negligence

A person acts with criminal negligence when, through a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would exercise, he fails to perceive a substantial and unjustifiable risk that a result will occur or that a circumstance exists.

2. Consequences of Colorado animal cruelty

2.1. Court-ordered evaluation

Prior to sentencing, the court will order an evaluation of you to assist the judge in determining an appropriate sentence. You will be required to pay the cost of the evaluation unless you qualify for a public defender.

If the evaluation results in a recommendation of treatment and the court agrees, or if you have been charged with a second or subsequent animal cruelty offense, you will be ordered to complete an anger management treatment program or any other treatment program that the court may deem appropriate.

Upon successful completion of a treatment program deemed appropriate by the court, the court may suspend any fine imposed, except for the minimum possible fine for the offense, which will be imposed at the time of sentencing.

You are not required to undergo evaluation if the animal cruelty charges arise from:

  • The treatment of pack or draft animals by negligently overdriving, overloading, or overworking them, The treatment of livestock and other animals used in the farm or ranch production of food, fiber, or other agricultural products when such treatment is in accordance with accepted agricultural animal husbandry practices,
  • The treatment of animals involved in racing activities regulated pursuant to article 60 of title 12, C.R.S.,
  • The treatment of animals involved in research if such research facility is operating under rules set forth by the state or federal government,
  • The treatment of animals involved in rodeos,
  • The treatment of dogs used for legal hunting activities,
  • Wildlife nuisances,
  • Statutes regulating activities concerning wildlife and predator control in the state, including trapping.
Cowboy with his arms wrapped around a young steer at a rodeo

2.2. Penalties for first animal cruelty offense

A first offense for cruelty to animals or to a service animal or a certified police working dog is a Colorado class 1 misdemeanor. In addition to an anger management or other treatment program, punishment for Colorado cruelty to animals can include:

  • 6 - 18 months in jail, and/or
  • A fine of $500-$5,000 ($500 of which is mandatory if you are order to undergo anger management treatment).

2.3. Penalties for second or subsequent offense

A second or subsequent offense for cruelty to animals is a Colorado class 6 felony. Penalties can include:

  • 1 – 1 ½ years in prison (with 1 year mandatory parole), and/or
  • A fine of $1,000-$100,000 ($1,000 of which is mandatory if you are order to undergo anger management treatment).

Alternatively, the court may sentence you to probation instead of prison. In such a case, in addition to any other condition of probation, the court will order that you be committed to the county jail or home detention for at least 90 days at your own expense.

2.4. Aggravated cruelty to animals -- first offense

Aggravated cruelty to animals is a Colorado class 6 felony. Penalties for Colorado aggravated cruelty to animals may include:

  • 1 – 1 ½ years in prison (with 1 year mandatory parole), and/or
  • A mandatory fine of $1,000-$100,000, and
  • A mandatory anger management or other appropriate treatment program.

2.5. Aggravated cruelty to animals -- second or subsequent offense

A second or subsequent conviction for aggravated cruelty to animals is a Colorado class 5 felony. In addition to anger management treatment, penalties can include:

  • 1 - 3 years in prison (with 2 years mandatory parole), and/or
  • A fine of $1,000-$100,000.
cat with thick bandage wrapped around its front right paw

2.6. Confiscation of animal

If a peace officer has probable cause to believe your animal has been subjected to animal cruelty and as a result is endangered if it remains with you, he or she may take possession of and impound the animal.

Further, if in the opinion of a licensed veterinarian, an animal so impounded is experiencing extreme pain or suffering, or is severely injured past recovery, severely disabled past recovery, or severely diseased past recovery, the animal may be euthanized without a court order.

2.7. Forfeiture of animals

If you are convicted of animal cruelty, the court may, either on its own motion or that of the prosecuting attorney, order the forfeiture of ANY animal owned by you or in your custody that:

  • Was abused, neglected, mistreated, injured, or used by you during the course of the criminal episode that gave rise to such conviction, or
  • Was abandoned prior to the criminal episode.

An order of forfeiture shall provide for the immediate disposition of the forfeited animal by any legal means. If, however, in the opinion of a licensed veterinarian, the animal is experiencing extreme pain or suffering, or is severely injured past recovery, severely disabled past recovery, or severely diseased past recovery, the animal may be euthanized without a court order.1

2.8. Restitution of costs for cruelty to a service animal or police dog

service dog guiding blind man

In addition to the penalties set forth above, if you are convicted of cruelty to a service animal, the court will order you to make restitution to the agency or individual owning the service animal for any veterinary bills and replacement costs of the service animal if it is disabled or killed as a result of the cruelty to animals incident.

And if you are convicted of cruelty to a certified police working dog, the court will order you to make restitution to the agency or individual owning the certified police working dog. The restitution will be for all expenses, including any immediate and ongoing veterinary expenses related to the incident. It will also include replacement costs for the certified police working dog if it is permanently disabled or killed as a result of the cruelty to animals incident.

Finally, if the court finds that you committed cruelty to a certified police working dog with malicious intent, you will also be ordered to make restitution to the agency or individual owning the certified working dog for all training and certification costs related to the certified police working dog.

3. Colorado animal cruelty defenses

Because Colorado's cruelty to animals law is so complex, the best defense to a Colorado animal cruelty charge will depend on the specific facts of your case.

However, common defenses to Colorado animal cruelty charges often include (but are not limited to):

  • The animal was injured accidentally,
  • You reasonably didn't realize your animal was at risk of harm,
  • You did not cause the harm to the animal,
  • The animal was sick or injured from unknown causes and any further harm resulted from your reasonable and good faith attempts to care for the animal,
  • The animal was used as livestock or for research, a rodeo or hunting and you were complying with applicable law and/or industry practices,
  • You were trapping wildlife in accordance with Colorado law,
  • The police engaged in entrapment or other police misconduct, or
  • The animal was discovered as the result of an illegal search and seizure.

Call us for help…

call center receptionist

Animals are injured every day through no fault of our own. And in their worthwhile zest to protect animals, police and prosecutors sometimes charge people with cruelty to animals – even when you didn't do anything wrong.

Or maybe anger management treatment would be more productive than jail time – but the prosecutor doesn't care.

Fortunately, our compassionate Colorado criminal attorneys do care. We offer vigorous defense to people accused of animal cruelty in Colorado and will fight to get your case reduced or dismissed – or to get you treatment, if it would benefit you.

To discuss your case with an experienced animal cruelty lawyer, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation. One of our Colorado animal cruelty lawyers will get back to you promptly to discuss your case and the best defenses to your Colorado animal cruelty charges.

We can be reached through the form on this page, or by phone at our Denver home office:

Colorado Legal Defense Group
1400 16th Street
16 Market Square
Denver CO 80202
720-955-6112


Legal references:

  1. 18-9-208 C.R.S.

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