Legal implications of animal abuse vary greatly from one state to another, ranging from misdemeanor convictions with small fines to felony violations with long jail terms, reports Nolo. Some state statutes are broadly worded and generally forbid all forms of cruelty, while others are more specific about various levels of abuse, with the most severe penalties going to those who manifest malicious, or intentional, cruelty to animals. Most states also confiscate the abused animals, adds About.com.
All states have laws against animal neglect, which usually includes abandonment, hoarding, or failure to supply food, shelter and medical care, explains the National District Attorneys Association. Additionally, most states specifically outlaw acts of animal cruelty that may include physically injury, killing an animal or permitting organized animal fighting. Activities often exempt from animal cruelty laws include research, euthanasia, trapping, hunting and pest control. States also usually allow rodeos, circuses and zoos, points out About.com. The federal government has various laws protecting endangered species but no laws concerning animal cruelty.
Some states have special requirements for puppy mills and pet shops that keep animals to be sold as merchandise, explains Nolo. The establishments must be clean, warm, spacious and have good ventilation. Penalties for violations may involve jail sentences and large fines. Animal abuse cases are generally difficult to prosecute because the victims cannot testify, and circumstantial, forensic and scientific evidence is difficult to gather, according to the National District Attorneys Association.