What are Animal Cruelty Laws?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

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.

Animal cruelty laws aim to provide protection for animals.
Animal cruelty laws aim to provide protection for animals.

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.

Animal cruelty laws may help prevent unscrupulous breeders.
Animal cruelty laws may help prevent unscrupulous breeders.

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.

Some animal cruelty laws cover working conditions for horses.
Some animal cruelty laws cover working conditions for horses.

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.

Made by force feeding ducks or geese, terrine is said to be produced through animal cruelty.
Made by force feeding ducks or geese, terrine is said to be produced through animal cruelty.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

Rundocuri
I agree with you Heavanet. I also think that it is important to punish people who commit crimes against animals because if they hurt animals, I think they will also someday hurt humans too. When we help animals with animal cruelty laws, we also help humans in my opinion.
Heavanet
I feel that animal cruelty laws and the rights of animals are very important in society. Animals are innocent, and depend on humans for care. They are at their mercy. When people abuse them, they should received the worst punishments the law allows.
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