Animal Law Committee of the Environment, Energy
and Natural Resources Section
Creative Sentencing in Animal Cruelty Cases
A program sponsored by the DC Bar Environment, Energy and Natural
Resources Section’s Animal Law Committee and the DC Bar Criminal
Law and Individual Rights Section
April 12, 2005
This program focused on sentencing options, in lieu of or in addition
to imprisonment or fines for animal abusers, including counseling or community
service. The speakers discussed the link between animal abuse and violence
directed towards humans, noting its implications for policy, practice
and programs; treatment options available and currently in use; existing
animal cruelty statutes; and their experiences prosecuting those charged
with animal cruelty.
Mary Lou Randour, Ph.D., Director of Education, Doris Day Animal Foundation
Scott Rolle, Esq., State’s Attorney, Frederick County, Maryland
Denise Simmonds, Esq., Assistant United States Attorney
Each of the speakers shared his/her viewpoints and experiences regarding
animal cruelty in his/her field of expertise. The speakers then collectively
answered questions from the audience.
Mary Lou Randour:
- Animal cruelty is a public health issue and should be treated as such.
- Approximately 40% of children have witnessed animal abuse, and one-third
have participated in animal abuse.
- Approximately one-half of the animal abuse incidents involved groups
- Even if you do not care about animals, you should pay attention to
animal cruelty because it is an indicator of a propensity for other
types of crimes/violence/abuses and even psychological disorders (especially
important for juveniles).
- Serial killers have been known to start with violence against animals.
- Forty-one (41) states classify at least some violations of their
animal cruelty laws as felonies.
- Twenty-seven (27) states have provisions for counseling; in some states,
counseling is mandatory.
- Animal control officers are now trained to look for more than the
animal abuse when they conduct an investigation; likewise, police officers
are encouraged to look for animal abuse when investigating other crimes
in the home, especially domestic violence.
- Some municipalities provide temporary housing for pets in abusive
situations to make it easier for a woman to leave an abusive home without
worrying about the pet being left behind in a dangerous environment.
- Abuse intervention helps prevent future cruelty to animals; compassion
training and mandatory court review helps reduce repeat offenses.
- The motivation for the animal cruelty must be identified to stop it.
- Though there is a human/animal cruelty link, it is important in and
of itself to protect animals, because it is simply wrong to mistreat
- The State’s Attorney’s Office of Frederick County, Maryland,
started the first Animal Protection Task Force, and has a good track
record for prosecuting animal abusers. Other jurisdictions are now following
- People should write their congressman, district attorney, etc. to
advocate prosecution of animal abusers. Public opinion counts so hearing
from the community on animal abuse issues will encourage lawmakers and
law enforces to treat animal abuse seriously. Letters, however, should
be extremely polite and professional — this adds to their credibility.
- Raise awareness among the “conservatives” too (e.g.,
the head of the local hunting club).
- The statutes currently only protect domestic animals (e.g., cats
- The laws do not offer protections for animals raised for food, experimentation,
etc. Though the conditions in which these animals are raised is problematic,
trying to enforce the animal cruelty statutes against persons who use
animals in this way would likely backfire.
- The U.S. Attorney’s Office prosecutes animal cruelty in D.C.
- Animals need the same special attention as children and seniors who
also are defenseless in many ways.
- It is harder to prosecute animal cruelty as a felony (requiring specific
intent in D.C. and argued before a jury) versus a misdemeanor (only
requiring general intent and argued before a judge).
- “Collectors” can be a problem too — they may have
had good intentions, but become overwhelmed, and that can lead to neglect.
- Part of a plea bargain may require the defendant to relinquish the
animal or animals in his care. Sometimes only one animal in a home is
abused, but all will be removed.
- The likelihood of prosecution in animal cruelty cases also can be
very dependent on the judge and the existence of witnesses willing to
testify. In D.C., it is difficult to get witnesses to testify because
of fear of retaliation. Moreover, they assume that getting the animal
away from the abusive situation is sufficient.
- Sometimes it is more appropriate to “divert” a case before
trial for youth, the mentally disabled or collectors.
- Some witnesses just make an anonymous tip.
- Some cases require expert testimony to vouch for the extent of the
- In D.C., there also is a problem with dogs kept by drug dealers for
General Panel Comments:
- Forms of alternative sentencing commonly used include community service,
anger management, drug testing and treatment, weekend jail, or probation
with the condition that the defendant won’t own any animals for
the period of probation. Community service at, e.g., animal shelters,
however, may not be appropriate for animal abusers.
- Mandatory reporting of animal abuse by veterinarians or others could
work against the interests of animals because such would discourage
abusers from taking their animals for treatment.