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Animal Abuse

 Animals deserve proper care and protection. This is the responsibility charged on every animal owner or one who has been charged with the care of an animal. Therefore, the harming, neglect, mistreatment, or killing of an animal amounts to the abdication of your responsibility, which can amount to animal abuse charges. Our team at Leah Legal offers Los Angeles and Van Nuys residents with legal counsel and representation if they are facing animal abuse charges.

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What Constitutes Animal Abuse

The legal definition of animal abuse or animal cruelty is covered under Penal Code 597. An animal is considered to be abused or to have suffered cruelty when it is the victim of neglect or cruel treatment.

Penal Code 597 addresses two aspects in an animal abuse case, that is, intentional abuse and intentional neglect. Intentional abuse refers to actions that cause physical harm to an animal, whereas willful neglect occurs in situations where an animal is deprived of shelter, water, food, or veterinary services.

Code 597 PC prohibits any cruel, malicious, or intentional mutilation, maiming, torturing, or wounding of an animal. The killing of an animal is also a crime under the Penal Code 597. The code goes further to include overworking, driving, or riding an animal unfit for labor as violations punishable under this code.

Law enforcement agencies may not be present to witness animal abuse. This challenge, however, is remedied under Penal Code 597. Anyone who witnesses animal cruelty should report the matter to either the law enforcement agencies or animal rights entities. There are hotlines available to the public that one can use to report animal abuse. Licensed veterinarians are encompassed under this section of Penal Code 597. They must report cases of neglect or animal abuse.

Animal abuse takes form in various ways. California’s penal system addresses the different forms. Looking at them will help understand animal cruelty in a broader sense.

Animal Sexual Abuse

Animal sexual abuse, commonly referred to as zoophilia or bestiality, is the use of an animal to satisfy a sexual desire. Such actions contravene Penal Code 286.5. Sexual abuse in human sex abuse cases may have an aspect of violence or the lack of consent. However, in animal sexual abuse cases, sexual contact is sufficient evidence.

Violations of Penal Code 286.5 are misdemeanor offenses punishable with a $1,000 fine and a six-month sentence.


Cockfighting is an organized fighting match between two roosters. The roosters are equipped with razor-sharp metals called gaffs and are trained to kill their opponents. Gaffs are meant to stab the opponent directly into their flesh to deliver a deadly end.

People attend cockfights and place a wager to earn a margin from the winning rooster. They cheer on as the cocks battle it out to death. Most often, the losing cock ends up dead while in other instances, they are too weak to recover and are often thrown in a trash bin, regardless of whether they are alive or not.

Cockfighting meets the criteria of animal cruelty. Roosters suffer pain and malicious, wounding, or maiming. Therefore, any organizer or participant, or owners of the roosters in a cockfighting match violates Penal Code 597. The code prohibits the following:

  • Attendance of a cockfighting match
  • Allowing, organizing, or facilitating the game as entertainment or for financial gain
  • Owning, rearing, or training a rooster for a cockfighting match
  • The manufacture, purchase, exchange, sale, or possession of gaffs

Law enforcement agencies can storm in residence without a warrant if they believe or have information on a cockfighting event in the premises. Therefore, any arrests they carry out will be upheld by the courts. Of interest to the arresting officers and prosecutors are the rooster owners, the event organizers, as well as spectators.

Prosecutors may decide to prosecute event organizers and rooster owners under section 597 (a), malicious and intentional maiming, mutilating, wounding, and killing of a rooster. Such violations attract a felony penalty of a jail sentence as directed by the court and a fine of no more than $20,000. However, should prosecutors pursue misdemeanor charges, you will be fined a sum of no more than $20,000 and/or a jail term of no more than a year.

Spectators, on the other hand, will be punished for their part as parties to the match. However, these charges are viable only if your role was that of a spectator and not an event planner or the owner of the roosters. If convicted as a spectator, you face misdemeanor charges punishable by a fine of not exceeding $1,000 and/or a jail sentence of up to six months.


Dogfighting is packaged as entertainment with deadly consequences to the dogs. Above the injuries sustained from the fight, the losing dogs are either shot, electrocuted, hanged, or drowned. Such actions violate Penal Code 597.5.

Penal Code 597.5 considers the following actions as prosecutable:

  • Possession, rearing, or training of dogs with the intention of featuring them in a dogfight
  • Causing the maiming or death of a dog through organizing, or planning for a dog fight with the intention of packaging the contest as an amusement or avenue for financial gain
  • Participating in a dogfight as a spectator

Prosecutors have the discretion of pursuing felony or misdemeanor charges. Being a spectator in such a fight is a misdemeanor offense. If convicted of the misdemeanor offense, you risk spending one year in jail and paying up to $5,000 in fines. Felony charges, on the other hand, are punishable with a 16-month, two or three-year prison sentence. Furthermore, the felony charges attract fine to the tune of $50,000.

Leaving an Animal in a Vehicle Unattended

Leaving an animal unattended in a vehicle may seem like a small matter. However, it is considered as abuse because it may affect the well-being of the animal. Penal Code 597.7 considers such an action as an offense because it endangers the health of the animal.

Prosecutors will need to prove to the court that you left the animal unattended in the vehicle:

  • In cold or hot weather
  • Without food or water
  • Deprived of adequate ventilation
  • In other circumstances that could reasonably cause the disability, suffering, or death of the animal

A successful conviction of a first-time Penal Code 597.7 violation is punishable with a fine of no more than $500 and a jail sentence of no more than six months. Such a conviction is upheld if the animal suffered injury. If not, you risk a fine of $100 per animal. A subsequent conviction is punishable by a fine not exceeding $500 and a six-month prison sentence.  These penalties are imposed regardless of whether the animal suffered bodily injury.

Prosecutors may pursue Penal Code 597.7 violations as well as introduce additional charges of neglect under Penal Code 597.

Other Animal Cruelty Laws

The circumstances of your case determines what charges a prosecutor will pursue. They may seek a conviction of violations of Penal Code 597 or the following offenses. They may also pursue punishment of any of the subsequent crimes in addition to a Penal Code 597 violation.

  • A prosecutor would seek a conviction under Penal Code 596 if you poisoned an animal
  • Any transportation of an animal in an inhumane manner, which is a violation of Penal Code 597a
  • Holding, rearing, selling of pets from a pet store in a way that contravenes the provisions of Penal Code 597l
  • Restraining an animal in a manner that causes them injury, gets them entangled, or limits their access to water and food. Such actions are a violation of Penal Code 597t
  • Restraining a dog to a stationary object, which is a violation of Code 122335 HS, the Health and Safety Code
  • Violations of Proposition 2. The law states that eggs sold to the public shall come from hens that can stand up, lie down, and extend their limbs and wings without touching the sides of the cages as well as each other.

Other Aspects Considered as Animal Abuse, Cruelty, or Neglect you Should Know

Animal cruelty encompasses various aspects that negatively affect the health and wellness of an animal. It is not only limited to the above issues addressed in the above laws. Prosecutors use these very aspects to prosecute alleged offenders.

Noticeable Body Trauma

An animal’s body tells a tale of its health and level of care. A filthy coat with open soars and wounds shows an injured animal. Limping, congested eyes, and physical distress also speak to the suffering of the animal.

The Lack of Sanitation

All animals should live in a clean environment, one that does not affect their health. Therefore, the presence of accumulated feces, garbage, or any other health-compromising agents present around your animal’s shelter could land you in trouble. Animal abuse charges may be introduced based on this finding.

Animal Hoarding

You can have numerous animals whose care you are charged with. However, the number becomes an issue if it compromises their health. Such actions are called animal hoarding. Animal hoarding deprives the animals of an environment that they can be free without the dangers that accompany overcrowding.

Abnormal Animal Behavior

Animals generally exude confidence and friendliness, especially with their owners. That is why it is unusual for an animal to cower in fear when their owner is around. Such behavior attracts the attention of the arresting authority with the assumption that the animal is or has been abused. If the investigations prove that there was abuse, the animal's behavior will be introduced as evidence supporting the abuse case.

The Lack of a Shelter

It is expected that all animals have a shelter to protect them against hot, rainy, and cold weather conditions. It is anticipated that these animals should be in an environment where they are not exposed to these conditions. Should an animal die or suffer because of these conditions, animal abuse charges will be introduced against you.

Prosecutors use the above issues as the basis of their animal abuse case against you or as evidence supporting your cruelty against the animal.

Every animal abuse matter is penalized, according to the law violated. This very principle informs the penalties sort after by the prosecution of animal abuse matter pursuant to Penal Code 597 violations.

Penalties Imposed on Animal Abuse Cases or Penal Code 597 Violations

Animal cruelty cases are punishable as misdemeanors or as felony offenses. The prosecution takes into consideration the facts in your case as well as your criminal history to determine what charges you should face. If the animal did not suffer significant bodily injury, you might face misdemeanor charges. If the animal suffered substantial harm or died, or you have a prior conviction, you might be facing felony charges.

Misdemeanor offenses are penalized with a fine not exceeding $20,000 and/or a one-year jail term. Felony offenses are punishable by a 16-month, two or three-year long prison sentence and/or a fine of no more than $20,000. Additional prison terms may be imposed. You may also be required to pay the cost of caring for the animal from when the animal was seized until the conclusion of your case. The judge may also instruct that the animal be taken away from your care permanently. Furthermore, counseling may be part of your conviction for the animal abuse matter.

Aggravated penalties will be imposed if the animal abused is a protected or endangered species. The judge determines what penalties suit the offense. Furthermore, animals used in labs or for educational purposes are not subject to the same protections as other animals. This means that you cannot be charged if you have the authority to conduct educational or lab experiments.

While it is upon all animal owners take care of their animals as a matter of responsibility, a mistake on your end or that of the investigating team could see you penalized for animal abuse. Furthermore, instances of false accusations, or mistaken identity could see you pay for a crime you did not commit. Thus, you need an attorney to defend your case.

Defenses against Penal Code 597 Violations

The circumstances surrounding an animal abuse matter are unique. Your attorney will use these very circumstances to develop a defense strategy that may involve the use of any of the following defenses:

  1. The Harm to the Animal was an Accident

The prosecution should prove that you intended to harm or kill the animal in the case. However, there are instances you actions could have been purely accidental. Your defense attorney should prove this to the court. The circumstances that led to the injury and your actions after the injury should demonstrate that the harm was accidental.

  1. Your Actions were in Self-Defense or Defense of Others

The argument of self-defense is upheld if you used a force that was reasonable to the threat you or another faced. The legal system in California allows one to defend themselves or another against the danger of harm or death. Therefore, if you killed or injured a dog that was attacking you or another (person or animal), then you can argue self-defense.

  1. You were a Victim of Mistaken Identity or False Accusations

In some instances, persons reporting animal abuse matters do so to settle a score with the defendant, or satisfy a revenge plot against the defendant. Such cases are rampant. If this is your situation, your defense attorney will introduce the false accusation or mistaken identity argument to fight off the unfair charges.

  1. Failure by the Judge to Provide Unanimity Instructions

Prosecutors, jury, and judges rely on two circumstances in every animal abuse case. The case must either be:

  • A continuing matter. That is, you failed to provide proper care to your animal over time. This means that your current animal cruelty situation resulted from your failure to stop the abusive actions on your animal, or
  • A one-time action. In such instances, the matter before the court is an action seeking your prosecution for a single occurrence of animal cruelty.

If the matter is based on a continuous behavior of animal cruelty, the judge will instruct the jury to unanimously agree on an instance of animal abuse, if any. You will be held culpable for this instance. Should the jury not unanimously agree on a specific occurrence, your attorney will introduce this defense.

A jury in one-time actions, on the other hand, must unanimously agree on particular conduct, which contravenes the law. The judge will instruct the jury to agree unanimously in that specific conduct as the basis of the case. If this instruction is not passed to the jury, your attorney will introduce this defense.

Fight Animal Abuse Charges with the Help of an Attorney Near Me

Championing for animal wellness and care is a responsibility we should all take part in. The law seeks to enforce this very concept. However, some people or situations may cause you to suffer an animal abuse conviction as well as the penalties for the crime. An attorney will help defend you against the charges. Our team at Leah Legal in Van Nuys defends those facing animal abuse charges. Give our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer a call today at 818-484-1100 for a case assessment.