We love our pets and treat them with care and attention, and try to protect them from harm. California's laws also try to protect animals from cruelty and abuse, and provide some of the harshest penalties in the nation for those convicted of animal abuse.
Animal abuse in California is a serious offense with serious consequences. But what is “animal abuse”? Certainly, we can all picture obvious acts of cruelty or neglect. But is it possible to unintentionally find yourself on the wrong side of California's animal abuse law?
“Animal abuse” or “animal cruelty,” while broadly defined under California law, is focused on deliberate or malicious acts of cruelty and neglect. There are a number of California statutes that address animal cruelty and abuse in specific circumstances, such as laws involving transportation of animals, endangered or protected species, and animals in pet shops, as well as laws that specifically prohibit inherently cruel activities like cockfighting and dogfighting. However, California's main animal abuse statute is California Penal Code Section 597.
Animal Abuse Defined
Under Section 597, animal cruelty is defined as:
- maliciously, intentionally, or cruelly maiming, mutilating, torturing, or wounding a living animal,
- maliciously, intentionally, or cruelly killing an animal,
- depriving an animal of necessary food, drink, or shelter (or failing to protect an animal from severe weather conditions),
- riding, driving, overworking, or otherwise using the animal when it is unfit for labor, and/or
- subjecting any animal to needless suffering, or inflicting unnecessary cruelty upon the animal
Animal Cruelty Can Be a Misdemeanor or a Felony
A violation of Section 597 can be charged either as a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the nature and severity of the conduct involved. A conviction for animal cruelty as defined in Section 597 carries heavy penalties, including:
- Up to one year in a county jail and a maximum $20,000 fine if convicted as a misdemeanor;
- 16 months, or two, or three years in a California state prison and the same maximum fine if convicted as a felony;
- Having the animal(s) permanently removed from your care;
- Paying the costs associated with housing the animal from the time of seizure to the time of your conviction;
- completing court-ordered counseling as a term of a probation sentence
Leaving a Pet in a Hot Car Can Be Animal Abuse
One of the more common ways you can be charged with animal abuse -even if you had no “malicious,” “intentional,” or “cruel” intent - is to leave a dog or other pet in an unattended vehicle under conditions that may affect its health or safety.
Under California Penal Code Section 597.7, it is a criminal offense to leave or confine an animal in any unattended motor vehicle under conditions that endanger the health or well-being of an animal due to:
- lack of adequate ventilation,
- lack of food or water, or
- other circumstances that could reasonably be expected to cause suffering, disability, or death to the animal.
Whether you have been charged with violating California animal abuse law for leaving your pet in your car or for any other act, there are defenses that an experienced California criminal defense attorney can assert on your behalf. Please give us a call to discuss your matter. (Also see our article, "5 Illegal Pets in California." For Nevada law, see our blog article, "A Las Vegas Animal Cruelty Conviction Can Result in Significant Jail Time.")