Animal Abuse Laws in Massachusetts

Animal abuse laws in Massachusetts have expanded and toughened under the 2014 PAWS Act. The Act Protecting Animal Welfare and Safety (PAWS) increased punishments for existing crimes of animal abuse and added a mandatory requirement for veterinarians to report suspected abuse.

The PAWS Act increased punishment for animal abuse and cruelty offenses from 5 years to 7 years imprisonment and doubled the fine penalty from $2,500 to $5,000.

Types of animal abuse in Massachusetts include:

  • Animal Cruelty, such as intentional torture and physical violence upon an animal.
  • Animal Neglect, for example, not providing sufficient food and water.
  • Animal Abandonment, when an owner leaves their pet behind after moving or refuses to let the animal back into the home.
  • Animal Fighting or the exhibition of the fighting of birds, dogs or other animals.

Dogs and Hot Car Abuse

In 2016, Massachusetts passed into law a restriction on leaving animals inside a vehicle during severe weather conditions.

A person having custody of a dog, cat, or other animal cannot leave it in their vehicle during extreme weather in a manner that threatens the animal’s health.

The most common violation under this law is exposing a dog to extreme heat inside a hot car during summer.

Cold or hot car exposure of an animal is a civil infraction. The penalty for a first offense is up to a $150 fine and up to $300 for a second violation. For a third and subsequent offense the maximum fine is $500.

You might also be charged under M.G.L. c272 §77 for criminal animal abuse.

Is animal cruelty a felony?

Yes. Under Massachusetts laws, animal cruelty offenses are charged as felonies. An experienced criminal defense attorney may be able to negotiate charges down to a misdemeanor or civil infraction.

A lesser charge or dismissal of all charges is much more likely when strong defenses are developed, and/or when weaknesses in the state’s case are exposed by your defense attorney.

Animal Abuse Punishment

If you are convicted of animal cruelty in Massachusetts, you face serious punishment at sentencing. In addition to having a felony record, you face penalties of:

  • First Offense: From 2 ½ years jail time, up to 7 years in prison; or up to a $5,000 fine, or both incarceration and fine.
  • Second+ Offense: Up to 10 years in prison, or up to a $10,000 fine; or both.
  • Maximum 5 years in prison, or up to 1 year in jail, or maximum $1,000 fine, or both imprisonment + fine for fighting animals.
  • Forfeiture of all animals plus a prohibition from ever working with or around animals in Massachusetts.

Federal Animal Laws

Federal animal cruelty prevention laws are advancing mainly through the Commerce Clause. The Constitution allows federal regulation of business activities that involve two or more states.

Starting in 2010, Congress passed two laws under the Commerce Clause to prevent animal abusers from fighting animals and to punish creators and promotors of animal torture videos.

The FBI used these laws to help prosecute NFL player Michael Vick for his role in operating a dog fighting ring. Federal charges were brought ahead of the state’s animal cruelty charges and Vick was convicted in 2007 and served 21 months in prison.

You could face similar charges and be prosecuted for animal fighting in federal court if:

  • An animal was procured from one state and forced to fight in another;
  • Invitations, advertisements or promotions for a fight are sent out over federally regulated communication channels such as the internet;
  • You sell animals through interstate commerce that are used for fights.

Defenses to Animal Fighting Charges

In state or federal cases, the first line of defense against animal fighting charges is to show evidence that the defendant did not knowingly engage in the enterprise.

In all cases, it’s also possible that improper search and seizure motions can be filed against the investigating authorities.

If your defense attorney finds a defect in the issuance or execution of the warrant, key evidence for the prosecution can be thrown out if your Fourth Amendment rights were violated.

What To Do After Animal Abuse Charges

An animal abuse arrest should be treated very seriously. The criminal justice system in Massachusetts does not go lightly on these offenses.

Prosecutors are tough on animal cruelty because criminology studies indicate that people who harm animals are more likely to commit violent crimes against persons.

Charges should be dealt with seriously and anyone accused of animal abuse should immediately consult with a criminal defense lawyer.

The severity of punishment for cruelty against animals, including animal abuse, neglect and abandonment, is a serious criminal matter in Massachusetts.

If you or someone you care about need to defend against animal abuse charges, call my law office today for a free consultation: 978-452-1116.

Attorney Gregory Oberhauser

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Gregory Oberhauser is the ONLY attorney in Massachusetts to be distinguished as an ACS-CHAL Forensic Lawyer-Scientist by the American Chemical Society!

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