ARS § 13-2910 is the Arizona statute that defines the crime of animal cruelty. You commit this offense if you intentionally or recklessly harm an animal through cruel mistreatment, neglect, cruelty, or abandonment. A violation of this law can lead to a Class 5 felony charge punishable by over two years in state prison.
- purposely leaving a pet in a parked car with the windows open on a hot day.
- intentionally not taking a wounded pet to the vet.
- intentionally hitting a dog with a stool.
People accused of an animal cruelty charge can challenge it with a legal defense. A few common defenses include accused people showing that they:
- hurt an animal on accident,
- are exempt under the law, and/or
- acted in self-defense.
Depending on the facts in animal cruelty cases, a violation of ARS 13-2910 can be charged as a:
A Class 5 felony is the most serious charge and is punishable with prison time of up to two years and six months. A Class 1 misdemeanor is the least serious charge and is punishable by up to six months of jail time.
In this article, our criminal defense attorneys will discuss what the law is under this statute, defenses available if charged, the penalties for a conviction, and related crimes.
1. How does Arizona law define “animal cruelty”?
People can violate Arizona’s animal cruelty laws in one of several different ways. Some of the most common violations occur when people:
- recklessly subject any animal to cruel mistreatment,
- intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly kill any animal under the custody or control of another person without either legal privilege or consent of the owner,
- recklessly interfere with, kill, or harm a working animal or service animal without either legal privilege or consent of the owner.
- intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly leave an animal unattended and confined in a motor vehicle when the act is likely to cause physical injury or death to the animal,
- intentionally or knowingly subject a domestic animal to cruel mistreatment,
- intentionally or knowingly subject any animal under the person’s custody or control to cruel neglect or abandonment and it results in serious physical injury to the animal, and
- intentionally or knowingly harass a working animal that is in a law enforcement officer’s vehicle or trailer without either legal privilege or consent of the animal’s owner.i
Note that as to number four above, a peace officer or animal control enforcement agent can use reasonable force to open a vehicle in order to rescue the animal from any animal abusers.
For purposes of this section:
- “animal” means a mammal, bird, reptile, or amphibian,
- “cruel mistreatment” means to torture or otherwise inflict unnecessary serious physical injury on an animal,
- “cruel neglect” means to fail to provide an animal with necessary food, water, or shelter,
- “domestic animal” means an animal that is primarily kept as a pet or companion,
- “service animal” is different from farm animals and means an animal that helps its owner in one or more daily living tasks and is trained not to pose a danger to the health and safety of the general public, and
- “working animal” means a horse or dog used by law enforcement and is under the control of a handler.ii
2. Are there defenses to ARS 13-2910?
Criminal defense lawyers draw upon several legal strategies to help clients challenge allegations of cruelty to animals. Three common ones include defense lawyers showing that defendants:
- harmed an animal on accident.
- are exempt under the law.
- acted in self-defense.
Most animal abuse crimes under this statute require an offender to act intentionally or knowingly. These terms mean that defendants are only guilty of a crime if they intentionally hurt an animal or did so knowing that an animal would experience some cruelty. A defense is for defendants to show that they did not act with either of these aims. Perhaps, for example, an accused injured an animal on accident.
2.2 Exempt under the law
The language of ARS 13-2910 lists a few exceptions where people are not guilty of animal cruelty even if they hurt an animal. For example, the law states that people can take the life of an animal if done through a hunting or fishing activity regulated by either the:
Therefore, defendants can try to show their innocence by saying that their acts fell into an exception listed in the statute.
Arizona law allows people to defend themselves if there is the danger of an imminent attack. These laws let people stand up to dangers posed by both 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.
3. What are the penalties?
In particular, a prosecutor can file an animal cruelty charge as either a:
- Class 5 felony, punishable by up to two years and six months in state prison,
- Class 6 felony, punishable by up to two years in prison, or
- Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail.
4. Are there related offenses?
There are three crimes related to animal cruelty. These include:
- bestiality – ARS 13-1411,
- dogfighting – ARS 13-2910.01, and
- cockfighting – ARS 13-2910.03.
4.1 Bestiality – ARS 13-1411
Per ARS 13-1411, bestiality is the crime where people knowingly engage in, or cause someone else to engage in, oral sexual contact, sexual contact, or sexual intercourse with an animal.
The term “animal,” as used under this statute, has the same definition as used under ARS 13-2910.
4.2 Dogfighting – ARS 13-2910.01
Per ARS 13-2910.01, dogfighting is the offense where a person owns, possesses, keeps, or trains any dog with the intent that such dog engages in an exhibition of fighting with another dog.
Unlike with a violation of ARS 13-2910, a violation of this statute is always charged as a Class 5 felony.
4.3 Cockfighting – ARS 13-2910.03
Under ARS 13-2910.03, cockfighting is the crime where a person owns, possesses, keeps, or trains any cock with the intent that such rooster engages in an exhibition of fighting with another rooster.
Note that depending on the facts of the case, a person could be charged with both:
- cockfighting, and
- animal cruelty.
- Arizona Revised Statutes 13-2910 Subsection A. The language of the code section reads as follows:A. A person commits cruelty to animals if the person does any of the following:1. Intentionally, knowingly or recklessly subjects any animal under the person’s custody or control to cruel neglect or abandonment.
2. Intentionally, knowingly or recklessly fails to provide medical attention necessary to prevent protracted suffering to any animal under the person’s custody or control.
3. Intentionally, knowingly or recklessly inflicts unnecessary physical injury to any animal.
4. Recklessly subjects any animal to cruel mistreatment.
5. Intentionally, knowingly or recklessly kills any animal under the custody or control of another person without either legal privilege or consent of the owner.
6. Recklessly interferes with, kills or harms a working or service animal without either legal privilege or consent of the owner.
7. Intentionally, knowingly or recklessly leaves an animal unattended and confined in a motor vehicle and physical injury to or death of the animal is likely to result.
8. Intentionally or knowingly subjects any animal under the person’s custody or control to cruel neglect or abandonment that results in serious physical injury to the animal.
9. Intentionally or knowingly subjects any animal to cruel mistreatment.
10. Intentionally or knowingly interferes with, kills or harms a working or service animal without either legal privilege or consent of the owner.
11. Intentionally or knowingly allows any dog that is under the person’s custody or control to interfere with, kill or cause physical injury to a service animal.
12. Recklessly allows any dog that is under the person’s custody or control to interfere with, kill or cause physical injury to a service animal.
13. Intentionally or knowingly obtains or exerts unauthorized control over a service animal with the intent to deprive the service animal handler of the service animal.
14. Intentionally or knowingly subjects a domestic animal to cruel mistreatment.
15. Intentionally or knowingly kills a domestic animal without either legal privilege or consent of the domestic animal’s owner or handler.
16. Intentionally or knowingly harasses a working animal that is in a law enforcement vehicle or trailer without either legal privilege or consent of the owner.
B. It is a defense to subsection A of this section if:
1. Any person exposes poison to be taken by a dog that has killed or wounded livestock or poison to be taken by predatory animals on premises owned, leased or controlled by the person for the purpose of protecting the person or the person’s livestock or poultry, the treated property is kept posted by the person who authorized or performed the treatment until the poison has been removed and the poison is removed by the person exposing the poison after the threat to the person or the person’s livestock or poultry has ceased to exist. The posting required shall provide adequate warning to persons who enter the property by the point or points of normal entry. The warning notice that is posted shall be readable at a distance of fifty feet, shall contain a poison statement and symbol and shall state the word “danger” or “warning”.
2. Any person uses poisons in and immediately around buildings owned, leased or controlled by the person for the purpose of controlling wild and domestic rodents as otherwise allowed by the laws of the state, excluding any fur-bearing animals as defined in section 17-101.
C. This section does not prohibit or restrict:
1. The taking of wildlife or other activities permitted by or pursuant to title 17.
2. Activities permitted by or pursuant to title 3.
3. Activities regulated by the Arizona game and fish department or the Arizona department of agriculture.
D. A peace officer, animal control enforcement agent or animal control enforcement deputy may use reasonable force to open a vehicle to rescue an animal if the animal is left in the vehicle as prescribed in subsection A, paragraph 7 of this section.
E. A person who is convicted of a violation of subsection A, paragraph 6 or 10 of this section is liable as follows:
1. If the working or service animal was killed or disabled, to the owner or agency that owns the working or service animal and that employs the handler or to the owner or handler for the replacement and training costs of the working or service animal and for any veterinary bills.
2. To the owner or agency that owns a working or service animal for the salary of the handler for the period of time that the handler’s services are lost to the owner or agency.
3. To the owner for the owner’s contractual losses with the agency.
F. An incorporated city or town or a county may adopt an ordinance with misdemeanor provisions at least as stringent as the misdemeanor provisions of this section, except that any ordinance adopted shall not prohibit or restrict any activity involving a dog, whether the dog is restrained or not, if the activity is directly related to the business of shepherding or herding livestock and the activity is necessary for the safety of a human, the dog or livestock or is permitted by or pursuant to title 3.
G. If a judicial officer orders the release of a person who is currently serving a term of probation for a violation of this section and who is charged with a new violation of this section on the person’s own recognizance or on the execution of bail, the judicial officer shall impose a condition of release that prohibits the person from possessing or having contact with any animal.
H. A person who violates subsection A, paragraph 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 12 or 16 of this section is guilty of a class 1 misdemeanor. A person who violates subsection A, paragraph 8, 9, 10, 11 or 13 of this section is guilty of a class 6 felony. A person who violates subsection A, paragraph 14 or 15 of this section is guilty of a class 5 felony.
I. For the purposes of this section:
1. “Animal” means a mammal, bird, reptile or amphibian.
2. “Cruel mistreatment” means to torture or otherwise inflict unnecessary serious physical injury on an animal or to kill an animal in a manner that causes protracted suffering to the animal.
3. “Cruel neglect” means to fail to provide an animal with necessary food, water or shelter.
4. “Domestic animal” means a mammal, not regulated by title 3, that is kept primarily as a pet or companion or that is bred to be a pet or companion.
5. “Handler” means a law enforcement officer or any other person who has successfully completed a course of training prescribed by the person’s agency or the service animal owner and who used a specially trained animal under the direction of the person’s agency or the service animal owner.
6. “Harass” means to engage in conduct that a reasonable person would expect to impede or interfere with a working animal’s performance of its duties.
7. “Service animal” means an animal that has completed a formal training program, that assists its owner in one or more daily living tasks that are associated with a productive lifestyle and that is trained to not pose a danger to the health and safety of the general public.
8. “Working animal” means a horse or dog that is used by a law enforcement agency, that is specially trained for law enforcement work and that is under the control of a handler.
See also State v. Hausner, 230 Ariz. 60 (2012). A person who violates Subsection a will face corresponding penalties set forth in ARS 13-2910G.
- ARS 13-2910H.
- ARS 13-2910C3.
- ARS 13-2910G.