Penal Code 597 PC is the main California statute that defines the offense of animal abuse. This section makes it a crime for a person to maliciously kill, harm, maim, or torture an animal. The charge can be filed as either a misdemeanor or a felony.
597 PC states that “every person who maliciously and intentionally maims, mutilates, tortures, or wounds a living animal, or maliciously and intentionally kills an animal, is guilty of a crime…”.
The law protects all of the following:
- domesticated pets,
- stray animals,
- wild animals, and
- farmed animals.
- leaving a pet alone in a house for many days without any food or water.
- intentionally throwing a dog into oncoming lanes of traffic.
- forcing a dog or cat to stay outdoors in extremely hot or cold conditions.
An accused can challenge an animal abuse charge with a legal defense. Common defenses include that
- the defendant acted in self-defense,
- the accused was not responsible for the animal's care, and/or
- the defendant lacked the means to properly care for the animal.
A violation of this statute is a wobbler. A prosecutor can charge a wobbler as either a misdemeanor or a felony.
Misdemeanor animal abuse is punishable by custody in county jail for up to one year.
Felony animal abuse is punishable by custody in state prison for up to three years.
Our California criminal defense attorneys will highlight the following in this article:
- 1. When is animal abuse a crime?
- 2. How can an attorney defend a person against these charges?
- 3. What is the punishment?
- 4. What are the implications for non-citizens?
- 5. Can a conviction get cleared from one's record?
- 6. Does a conviction affect gun rights?
- 7. Are there other California laws on animal abuse?
- 7.1. Cockfighting – PC 597b
- 7.2. Dogfighting – PC 597.5
- 7.3. Leaving an animal in an unattended vehicle – PC 597.7
- 7.4. Sexual abuse of animals – PC 286.5
- 7.5. Poisoning animals – PC 596
- 7.6. Transporting an animal in a cruel or inhumane manner – PC 597a
- 7.7. Regulating the conditions of animals sold in a pet store – PC 597l
- 7.8. Confined animals – PC 597t
- 7.9. Unlawful tethering of a dog – HS 122335
- 8. Are there federal animal abuse laws?
- 8.1. The Animal Welfare Act (AWA)
- 8.2. The “28 Hour Law”
- 8.3. The Humane Slaughter Act
- 8.4. The Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act (PACT)
- 9. How does a person report animal abuse?
1. When is animal abuse a crime?
A prosecutor must prove the following to convict a person under this statute.
- the defendant maimed, mutilated, tortured, wounded, or killed a living animal, and
- the defendant acted maliciously.1
“Torture” means an act, failure to act, or neglect that causes unnecessary:
- physical pain, or
“Maiming” means disabling or disﬁguring an animal permanently or depriving it of a:
- organ, or
- other body part.3
A person acts “maliciously” when he or she intentionally does a wrongful act.4
2. How can an attorney defend a person against these charges?
Defense lawyers use different legal strategies to oppose charges under PC 597. These include showing that:
- the defendant acted in self-defense.
- the accused was not responsible for the animal's care.
- the defendant lacked the means to properly care for the animal.
California's self-defense laws allow people to defend themselves if there is the danger of an imminent attack.5 These laws let people stand up to dangers posed by both:
- other people, and
- animals (e.g., an aggressive pitbull).
A valid defense, therefore, is that an accused wounded or killed an animal in defense of:
- another person, or
- another animal.
The defense works if the defender takes no more action than was reasonably necessary to ward off the attack.6
2.2. Not responsible for the animal
A defendant asserts the following when using this defense:
- while an animal may have died or was hurt,
- he/she was not responsible for the animal's care.
Example: Mark moves into an apartment with Kelly. Kelly has a pet cat named Whiskers. When he moves in, Kelly tells Mark not to worry about the cat and that she is in charge of feeding it. Whiskers eventually dies after Kelly fails to feed it for days. Both Kelly and Mark are charged under PC 597.
In this scenario, Mark has a valid defense in that he was not responsible for Whiskers' care. Although he was Kelly's roommate, Kelly owned the cat and told Mark that she was responsible for feeding it.
2.3. Lack of means
A defendant is not guilty of animal abuse if the animal is neglected only because he/she did not have the financial means to care for it. This defense reflects the real situation where a party may suffer financial hardship because of:
- an injury,
- a medical condition, or
- the loss of a job.
3. What is the punishment?
A violation of this statute is a wobbler. A wobbler is an offense that the prosecutor can charge as either:
- a misdemeanor, or
- a felony.
Misdemeanor animal abuse is punishable by:
- custody in the county jail for up to one year, and/or
- a maximum fine of $20,000.7
Felony animal abuse is punishable by:
- custody in state prison for up to three years, and/or
- a maximum fine of $20,000.8
4. What are the implications for non-citizens?
A conviction of animal abuse may have negative immigration consequences.
A California court has ruled that “serious” cases of animal abuse can result in deportation.9 The facts of a case will dictate whether it is serious.
Also note that felony convictions that rise to the level of aggravated felonies can cause:
5. Can a conviction get cleared from one's record?
A person can get an animal abuse conviction expunged if:
- the conviction was for misdemeanor abuse, and
- the defendant successfully completed either a jail term or probation.
A person, though, cannot get a felony abuse conviction expunged. This is because expungements are not allowed for crimes that lead to prison terms.
6. Does a conviction affect gun rights?
A misdemeanor conviction will not affect a person's gun rights.
Felony convictions, though, will cause a defendant to lose his/her rights to:
- own a gun, and
- possess a gun.
It is a general rule under California law that convicted felons must give up these rights.
7. Are there other California laws on animal abuse?
California has several other laws that prohibit, or regulate, certain acts with animals. The State has laws on the following:
- Cockfighting – PC 597b
- Dogfighting – PC 597.5
- Leaving an animal in an unattended vehicle – PC 597.7
- Sexual abuse of animals – PC 286.5
- Poisoning animals – PC 596
- Transporting an animal in a cruel or inhumane manner – PC 597a
- Regulating the conditions of animals sold in a pet store – PC 597l
- Confined animals – PC 597t
- Unlawful tethering of a dog – HS 122335
7.1. Cockfighting – PC 597b
Penal Code 597b PC is the California statute that makes cockfighting a crime.
Cockfighting is the fighting or injuring of roosters.
The law makes it a misdemeanor to cause or allow a cockfight for either:
- amusement, or
- financial gain.
7.2. Dogfighting – PC 597.5
Penal Code 597.5 PC is the State's dogfighting law. People violate this law if they:
- own or train a dog with the intent to enter it in a dogfight,
- cause a dog to injure or kill another dog in a preplanned dogfight, and/or
- watch a dogfight as a spectator.
7.3. Leaving an animal in an unattended vehicle – PC 597.7
Penal Code 597.7 PC makes it a crime for a person to:
- leave a dog or pet unattended in a vehicle, and
- do so if the conditions would endanger the health or wellbeing of the animal.
Relevant considerations include the:
- temperature inside the vehicle,
- amount of ventilation,
- lack of food or water, and
- length of time the animal was unattended.
7.4. Sexual abuse of animals – PC 286.5
Penal Code 286.5 PC is California's statute on the sexual abuse of animals.
The law prohibits sexually assaulting an animal for the purpose of arousing sexual desires.
The sexual assault of an animal is also referred to as “bestiality” or “zoophilia.”
7.5. Poisoning animals – PC 596
Penal Code 596 PC is the California statute that makes it a misdemeanor for a person to:
- poison someone else's animal, and
- do so intentionally.
Note, though, that it is not a crime to use poison to control predatory animals.
7.6. Transporting an animal in a cruel or inhumane manner – PC 597a
Penal Code 597a is the State's law on the transportation of animals.
This statute makes it a misdemeanor for anyone to carry a domestic animal in a vehicle:
- in a cruel manner, or
- while knowingly allowing it to be subjected to unnecessary cruelty of any kind.
7.7. Regulating the conditions of animals sold in a pet store – PC 597l
Penal Code 597l regulates how pet shop owners must store their animals. The law says requires operators to provide these animals:
- sanitary conditions,
- proper heating and ventilation,
- adequate nutrition, and
- proper space.
7.8. Confined animals – PC 597t
Penal Code 597t is the California statute on confined animals.
It says that confined animals restricted by a leash or rope must have adequate:
- water, and
8. Are there federal animal abuse laws?
There are four main federal statutes that pertain to animal abuse. These are:
- The Animal Welfare Act (AWA),
- The “28 Hour Law,”
- The Humane Slaughter Act, and
- The Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act (PACT)
8.1. The Animal Welfare Act (AWA)
The AWA applies to animals:
- kept in zoos,
- used in laboratories, and
- used in commercial breeding.10
The Act directs the U.S. Department of Agriculture to set minimum standards for the:
- treatment, and
- transportation of these animals.11
The AWA also prohibits dogfighting and cockfighting operations that cross state lines.12
8.2. The “28 Hour Law”
The 28 Hour Law says that vehicles transporting certain animals for slaughter must:
- stop every 28 hours, and
- during the stop, provide the animals with exercise, food, and water.13
Note that birds like chickens and turkeys are exempt from this law.14
8.3. The Humane Slaughter Act
This Act requires that animals be stunned into unconsciousness before slaughter. The aim of the statute is to minimize pain for the animals.15
Many birds, including chickens and turkeys, are not protected by this law.16
8.4. The Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act (PACT)
PACT became law in 2019 and applies to living non-human:
- reptiles, and
With respect to these animals, the law bans the intentional:
- impalement, or
- serious harming of them.17
The law also prohibits “animal crush videos.” These videos include any:
- motion picture films,
- digital recordings, or
- electronic images that depict animal cruelty.18
9. How does a person report animal abuse?
To report animal abuse, people should:
- dial 9-1-1, or
- contact their local animal control agency.
An animal control agency is obligated to investigate any report of animal cruelty.
People can also contact the U.S. Humane Society.
Note that, in California, cases of misdemeanor animal cruelty must get reported within one year of the cruel act. If reported after this time, the D.A. cannot file charges of a crime.19
Cases of felony animal cruelty must get reported within three years of the cruel act. If reported after this time, the D.A. cannot file charges of a crime.20
For additional help...
For additional guidance or to discuss your case with a criminal defense attorney, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.
CALCRIM No. 2953 - Cruelty to Animals.
See same. See also People v. Burnett (2003) 110 Cal.App.4th 868.
Judicial Council Of California Criminal Jury Instruction 3470 -- Right to Self-Defense or Defense of Another.
California Penal Code 26 PC.
California Penal Code 597d PC.
Madrid v. Holder (2013) 2013 U.S. App. LEXIS 20487.
See the Animal Welfare Act.
See the 28 Hour Law.
See the Humane Slaughter Act.
California Penal Code 802 PC.
California Penal Code 801 PC.