criminal Animal Cruelty

When you think of a criminal charge, you are likely to first think of an offense that harms another person, such as theft or assault. However, the Pennsylvania criminal code sets out offenses that cause harm to more than just a specific human being. For example, arson is a crime against property and driving under the influence is a harm against the general public safety. Additionally, the law protects animals from criminal acts, as well. Laws protecting animals are important, as animals are unable to report abuse and can be relatively helpless during an attack. For this reason, individuals who commit animal cruelty may face criminal charges and potentially serious consequences. However, many individuals find themselves wrongfully accused of this offense and anyone facing animal cruelty charges should have an experienced Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer handling their case. 

Pennsylvania law can be complicated

“Cruelty” is a subjective term and many different acts may be considered cruel by many different people. Therefore, the law interprets “cruelty” in regard to criminal offenses by setting out different charges for different specific acts. The following are some of the provisions of Pennsylvania’s animal cruelty law:

Act Charge Penalties
Torturing, disfiguring, mutilating, maiming, administering poison, or killing any dog or cat First degree misdemeanor(3rd degree felony for subsequent offense) Fine up to $1,000Up to 2 years incarcerationMental evaluation
Disfiguring, maiming, administering poison, or killing an animal other than a dog or cat Second degree misdemeanor Fine up to $500
Disfiguring, maiming, administering poison, or killing an animal in zoo captivity Third degree felony Fine up to $15,000Up to 3 years incarceration
Harassing, injuring, annoying, or interfering with a guide dog, hearing dog, or service dog Second degree misdemeanor Fine up to $500
Wantonly or cruelly mistreating, beating, overloading, abusing, or neglecting an animal owned by the individual Summary offense(Can be third degree misdemeanor for subsequent offense) Fine up to $750Up to 90 days in jail
Cropping, trimming, or cutting the ears of a dog, cutting the vocal cords of a dog, or cutting off the tail of a dog (with exceptions for veterinarians performing valid procedures under anesthesia) Summary offense Fine up to $750Up to 90 days in jail


Who enforces these laws?

Police officers are normally the enforcers of criminal laws in Pennsylvania, however, the law further authorizes individuals employed by not for profit human societies and organizations that work to prevent animal cruelty to also enforce the animal cruelty laws. Such organizations have the right to obtain warrants to search a suspect’s property, to seize any animals that they suspect have been victims of cruelty, and to initiate criminal proceedings against the alleged offender. For this reason, if a humane society employee comes to your home to investigate a reported animal cruelty, you should contact an attorney immediately who can evaluate your situation advise you of your rights.

Animal cruelty in the federal spotlight

Animal cruelty has been a focus of national attention in recent months since the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) made the announcement that it was reclassifying animal cruelty as a top-level felony. Such a reclassification mean the following:

  • More serious sentences for offenders
  • Better influence with juries to procure convictions
  • Greater reporting requirements for local law enforcement in order to track and research animal cruelty trends

The FBI stated that one of its goals in increasing focus on animal cruelty is to identify young individuals whose cruelty to animals may indicate a high chance of cruelty to humans in future years. By identifying these offenders early, they hope to provide mental health treatment necessary to avoid future injury to other people.

An experienced Philadelphia criminal defense attorney can help you

Though many individuals facing animal cruelty charges may believe their best option is to simply pay the fine and move on, having a conviction for animal cruelty on your criminal record can cause serious concerns for future employers, landlords, or others who may perform a background check. An experienced criminal defense attorney will always protect your legal rights, identify any possible legal defenses available in your case, and will negotiate with prosecutors to ensure you do not face excessive penalties or wrongful conviction. Brian Zeiger of the Zeiger Firm in Philadelphia has the skill to handle any type of criminal case, including animal cruelty. If you have been arrested or charged with a crime, please call today at 215-546-0340 to discuss how we can assist you.



Brian J. Zeiger, Esquire, is an experienced and successful criminal defense and civil rights attorney. He is a seasoned trial lawyer with significant experience before juries and judges. Brian understands civil rights cases, including Taser, Wrongful Death, Excessive Force, Police Brutality, Police Misconduct, Malicious Prosecution, Monell Claims, Sexual Assault, Prisoner’s Rights, Time Credit, Medical Malpractice, and Medical Indifference.