Animal cruelty laws are laws which criminalize cruelty to animals. The strength of animal cruelty law varies considerably from nation to nation, as does the definition of “cruelty” and the thinking on which animals should be covered by such laws. These laws define activities which are deemed illegal and may also provide sentencing guidelines which are intended to provide guidance in the event that someone is convicted of animal cruelty.
The history of concerns about animal welfare started relatively recently in human history. It was not until the 19th century that people began campaigning in earnest for legal protections for animals and governments began passing animal cruelty laws in response. It is sobering to note that several nations passed cruelty laws concerning animals before they passed laws addressing child abuse.
Governments take a number of perspectives on animal cruelty laws. Many advocates for animal welfare argue that cruelty to animals is inherently wrong because it involves abuse of another living being. Others point out that aside from this issue, people who are cruel to animals are also more likely to engage in other criminal behavior. There is a clear link, for example, between abuse of animals and domestic violence, as uncovered in research conducted by the Humane Society of the United States.
The purpose of animal cruelty laws is define cruelty, including physical abuse and neglect, and to define specific conditions which are deemed unsafe or cruel for animals. For example, some nations have passed laws prescribing a certain amount of available space for animals raised for food and animal products such as cheese. If animals are confined in spaces smaller than those outlined in the law, their keepers will be subject to penalties. Other animal cruelty laws can cover things like working conditions for working animals such as carriage horses and racing greyhounds, along with topics such as hoarding, a psychological disorder which can lead people to accumulate animals in unsafe conditions.
Animal cruelty laws tend to provide more aggressive protections for pets and companion animals such as horses, cats, and dogs, in contrast with animals raised for food like cows, pigs, and chickens. Under the law, people who abuse or neglect animals can be subject to fines, jail time, and community service. Animal cruelty laws also usually provide a mechanism for confiscating animals in abusive situations, allowing animal welfare organizations and agencies to intervene in cruelty cases.