18-9-202 CRS - Animal cruelty laws in Colorado


18-9-202 CRS is the Colorado law that prohibits cruelty to animals. It forbids a wide range of actions, including abuse, neglect, and abandonment.


  • Taking a pet dog into the woods and leaving it there to fend for itself
  • Starving a pet cat by withholding food and water
  • Leaving a pet hamster outside in winter
  • Beating a workhorse with a pipe
  • Bestiality with livestock

The statute states:

"A person commits cruelty to animals if he or she knowingly, recklessly, or with criminal negligence overdrives, overloads, overworks, torments, deprives of necessary sustenance, unnecessarily or cruelly beats, allows to be housed in a manner that results in chronic or repeated serious physical harm, carries or confines in or upon any vehicles in a cruel or reckless manner, engages in a sexual act with an animal, or otherwise mistreats or neglects any animal, or causes or procures it to be done, or, having the charge or custody of any animal, fails to provide it with proper food, drink, or protection from the weather consistent with the species, breed, and type of animal involved, or abandons an animal."


A first-time offense of animal abuse is a misdemeanor in Colorado. The sentence includes:

  • 6 - 18 months in jail, and/or
  • $500 - $5,000 in fines.

However, the court typically imposes anger management instead of jail.


Common defense strategies to 18-9-202 CRS charges are:

Below our Denver criminal defense lawyers discuss:

dog through cage (18-9-202 CRS)
Animal cruelty is typically a misdemeanor under 18-9-202 CRS in Colorado.

1. What is Colorado's legal definition of animal cruelty?

"Cruelty to animals" comprises all forms of abuse, neglect, or mistreatment. It makes no difference if the behavior was knowing, reckless, or merely negligent.

Specifically, animal cruelty is doing any of the following ten things to an animal:

  1. Torturing or needlessly killing;
  2. Overworking;
  3. Tormenting;
  4. Depriving necessary sustenance;
  5. Unnecessarily or cruelly beating;
  6. Housing in a hazardous way;
  7. Carrying or confining in or upon a vehicle in a cruel or reckless way;
  8. Engaging in a sex act;
  9. Failing to provide weather protection; or
  10. Abandoning (including intentionally abandoning a dog or cat)

The crime of aggravated cruelty to animals is when a person knowingly:

  • tortures an animal;
  • needlessly mutilates an animal; or
  • needlessly kills an animal1

Defendants face a separate charge for each animal they allegedly abused.2 So if a person is accused of neglecting two dogs, that person would face two separate cruelty charges.

1.1. Federal PACT Act

In 2019, Congress passed the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act (PACT). PACT prohibits intentional animal crushing. "Crushing" means:

  • Crushing,
  • Burning,
  • Drowning,
  • Suffocating,
  • Impalement,
  • Causing other serious harm

PACT also prohibits making or distributing "animal crushing" photographs or videos.

A person faces federal charges under PACT if their actions affect interstate commerce.3 An example is selling an animal crush video over the internet.

2. What are the penalties under 18-9-202 CRS?

Colorado's punishment for animal cruelty turns on whether :

  1. The cruelty was "aggravated"; and
  2. The defendant has prior convictions of violating 18-9-202 CRS.

Animal cruelty offense

Colorado penalties*

Animal cruelty

First offense

Class 1 misdemeanor:

  • 6 – 18 months in jail, and/or
  • $500 - $5,000 in fines, and
  • Anger management or other treatment programs (at the judge's discretion)

Second or subsequent offense

Class 6 felony:

  • 1 – 1 ½ years in prison (with 1 year of mandatory parole), and/or
  • $1,000 - $100,000 in fines, and
  • Anger management or other treatment programs, and
  • A court order not to have pets for 3 - 5 years

The court may instead impose probation instead of prison. But this would include at least 90 days in jail or home detention.

Aggravated animal cruelty

First offense

Class 6 felony:

  • 1 – 1 ½ years in prison (with 1 year of mandatory parole), and/or
  • $1,000 - $100,000 in fines, and
  • Anger management or other treatment programs, and
  • A court order not to have pets for 3 - 5 years

Second or subsequent offense

Class 5 felony:

  • 1 – 3 years in prison (with 2 years of mandatory parole), and/or
  • $1,000 - $100,000 in fines, and
  • Anger management or other treatment programs, and
  • A court order not to have pets for 3 - 5 years

*Defendants may have to forfeit their animals. And if the animal was a service animal or police dog, they may have to pay restitution for veterinary bills, replacement costs, training, and/or certification costs.

Prior to sentencing, the court orders an evaluation. It helps assist the court in determining the sentence. Defendants pay for the evaluation unless they qualify for a public defender. 

Not all defendants must undergo an evaluation. Evaluations are not required if the charges stem from either:

  • The treatment of pack or draft animals. And the defendant is accused of negligently overworking them;
  • The treatment of livestock. And the defendant's treatment aligns with accepted agricultural animal husbandry practices;
  • The treatment of racing animals regulated under 12-60 CRS;
  • The treatment of research animals. And the facility is operating under state or federal laws;
  • The treatment of rodeo animals;
  • The treatment of dogs used for legal hunting activities;
  • Wildlife nuisances; or
  • Wildlife and predator control, including trapping

Defendants ordered to complete a treatment program have a financial incentive. Upon successful completion, the court may suspend the fine except for the minimum amount.4

Example: Shelly gets convicted of cruelty to animals as a first-offense. The judge decides not to order any jail. Instead, the judge fines her the maximum amount of $5,000. ($500 is the minimum for a first-time offense.) Following an evaluation, the court orders Shelly to complete anger management. If Shelly finishes the program, the court may suspend $4,500 of the fine. She would still need to pay the $500 minimum.

2.1. Federal penalties

Violating the PACT Act is a felony. The punishment is:

3. What are common defenses?

The best way to fight animal cruelty charges turns on the facts of the case. Ten common defenses are:

  1. The injury was an accident;
  2. The defendant did not realize the animal was at risk of harm. And the defendant's beliefs were reasonable.
  3. The defendant was falsely accused;
  4. Nothing the defendant did qualified as cruelty.
  5. The animal was sick or injured by unknown causes. Any further harm followed from the defendant's good faith attempts to help;
  6. The animal attacked the defendant. And the defendant acted in reasonable self-defense.
  7. The animal was used for livestock, research, a rodeo, or hunting. And the defendant complied with applicable laws and/or industry practices;
  8. The defendant was trapping wildlife. And it was in line with Colorado law;
  9. The police entrapped the defendant. The defendant was not predisposed to harming animals. And the defendant never would have hurt the animal but for the police's actions; or
  10. The police discovered the animal from an illegal search and seizure.

Typical evidence in animal cruelty cases include:

  • Eyewitnesses
  • Veterinary records
  • Surveillance video and photographs
  • Expert veterinary testimony

4. How does it affect immigration?

Animal cruelty is deportable.6 This means non-citizens convicted of it face removal from the U.S.

Immigrants in criminal cases should seek legal counsel. Perhaps the prosecutor may be willing to negotiate. Learn more about the criminal defense of immigrants in Colorado.

5. Can I get a record seal?

Convictions are potentially sealable three years after the case ends. But dismissals can be sealed right away.7

Learn more about Colorado record seal laws.

6. Is animal fighting the same as cruelty?

No. Animal fighting is a separate offense under 18-9-204 CRS. The statute prohibits animal fights for entertainment or monetary gain. The most common examples are dog fights and cock (rooster) fights. 

People who hold, sponsor, or encourage animal fights face prosecution. And the penalties are harsher than those for animal cruelty. Learn more about animal fighting 18-9-204 CRS.

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Call our Denver criminal defense attorneys. Reach us 24/7 at 303-222-0330. We offer free consultations.

Call us for help…

Arrested for cruelty to animals in Colorado? Our Denver criminal defense attorneys will fight to get your charges reduced or dismissed. We will also fight to keep your beloved pets in your custody.

Call us at 303-222-0330. Or just fill out the form on this page. All consultations are free.

Colorado Legal Defense Group
4047 Tejon Street
Denver, CO 80211
(303) 222-0330

Arrested in California? See our article on California animal abuse laws (597 PC).

Arrested in Nevada? See our article on Nevada animal cruelty laws (NRS 574).

Legal references:

  1. 18-9-208 CRS.
  2. People v. Harris, 405 P.3d 361 (Colorado Court of Appeals, Division 2, 2016).
  3. 18 U.S.C. 48.
  4. 18-9-208 CRS.
  5. 18 U.S.C. 48.
  6. See, e.g., Matter of Ortega-Lopez, 26 I&N Dec. 99 (BIA 2013).
  7. See 24-72 CRS.


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