Animal Abandonment FAQ

Thursday, February 6, 2014 - 1:00pm
Black Lab sitting alone on sidewalk

Recently, we told you the story of Callie. Abandoned in a frozen van, Callie was left for dead until the ASPCA and NYPD rescued her. While we were thrilled to report that Callie’s story had a happy ending (she was adopted by the same police officer who found her), it got us thinking about animal abandonment. Though not discussed as often as other, more overt forms of animal cruelty, abandonment is a serious issue. To help understand what abandonment is, how it’s dealt with, and what you can do to help, we’ve answered some of the most Frequently Asked Questions.

What Is Animal Abandonment?

Abandonment laws differ by state, but generally speaking, abandonment happens when an owner or temporary caretaker of an animal leaves that animal in a public or private place (inside or outside) without intending to return for it and without making provision for its continued care.

How Many Animals Are Abandoned Each Year?

Because there is no national reporting requirement for animal abuse, there is no way to track the number of abandoned animals each year. However, we do know 6-8 million companion animals enter shelters nationwide every year. This number includes animals abandoned on the street (found animals) and animals seized after private abandonment in homes or apartments.

Is Animal Abandonment A Crime?

Most states have laws making abandonment of an animal unlawful. It is sometimes a component of cruelty laws, though some states like New York treat it as a separate offense. In New York, it is a Class A misdemeanor.

What Are the Consequences for Animal Abandonment?

Consequences vary nationwide. In New York, it is punishable by up to one year in jail and/or a fine of up to $1000. Visit our complete list of animal abandonment laws by state. If an abandoned animal is found to be sick, injured or dead, cruelty charges may also be appropriate. In these circumstances, forensic veterinary work may be helpful.

How Are Abandonment Laws Enforced?

Due to the nature of the crime, it is often difficult to identify and locate the owner or caretaker who has abandoned the animal. ID tags and microchips can sometimes help identify the responsibility party. Unfortunately, there are many instances where owners cannot readily be found and charged for abandonment.

What Can I Do To Help?

If you suspect animal abandonment, contact the police or appropriate law enforcement agency in your area. Visit our Fight Cruelty Page for a list of contacts in each state.

Please consider becoming an ASPCA Guardian today. Your support will help us continue our life-saving missions to rescue abandoned animals before it’s too late. 




Our judicial system coddles violators. Until this country grows BALLS and ACTUALLY punishes violators in a way that means something instead of satellite TV, 3 square meals , heating/cooling, medical care and a college education (more than most kids get). For instance, Callie's POS owner needs to be locked up in a freezing van (I'm sure Callie had no food/water) under the same circumstances and left to die. Eye for an Eye sends a true message, not this 'You get a free attorney and coddling at other people's expense' CRAP. States would make money if they actually made criminals pay for their crimes. I would pay to watch this POS freeze, and for others to have done to them what they do to others. Crime would take a tailspin if there were REAL punishments. Until then, You and I fund these POS's. If we really had a say in our govt/society, I'm sure the majority would want the same and keep their hard earned $$ in their pockets instead of being FORCED to spend it on DREGS. We need to TAKE OUT THE TRASH AMERICA!!!

Jackie Critser

If a person abandons a pet without making provisions for its care, that IS animal cruelty! I would like to see a stiffer penalty placed on it. There is no excuse in leaving an animal in such terrible circumstances when there are shelters available. I know how my pets feel when I am gone for several hours. Can you imagine how an animal feels left to die feels. Making an animal suffer like that, when it has no choice in the matter, is horrific.


What is the difference in abandoning a child or an animal. They are both living feeling beings. No matter what they are both wrong. I hate when people put people above animals. We are all God`s creatures. Respect all life.


Washington Humane Society is releasing NON-FERAL cats outside to fend for themselves. Is this abandonment?


The Washington Humane Society releases NON-FERAL cats back into the community just to lower their euthanasia rates. Do a Google search for the article published today in the Washington Post. Isn't this abandonment?


How about a photo of Callies new human? My neighbors just abandoned a cat. Now I am trying to get the cat to a foster. There are so many cats that are abandoned, a lot at the beach by the Ocean (SoCal) and others locally. It is an endless effort trying to take care of them. The good news is the city recently posted signs with penal code 597s. I hope this will follow with future arrests of people who abandoned their pets. I would like to see jail time as a mandate for anyone who abandons a pet under any circumstance.

Francine Szalicki

I believe in the state of Massachusetts it is a felony. I have picked up over 40 cats and kittens in Holyoke, MA, all friendly. They went to a no kill shelter. I have many more living outside in this frigis weather, most are not adoptable because they have been abused. This abandonment issue is a big joke, why make laws if they are not enforced????? A monster through out 3 cats, all friendly , and they had the same collars on them, just abandoned them. I got them all homes. It just makes me sick that the animal control officer, cops, and politicians just don't give a shit about abandoned cats. If it wasn't for me, they would all be dead. More work needs to be done in this area, and people should be held accountable for abandonment. All these people are minorities. I'm in drug infested areas and walk the alleys for 15 years.

Francine Szalicki


Wendy Leigh

My dog was abandoned at six months old in a country town. After a month of trying to find him a home, my family had fallen in love with him and decided to keep him. The owner then came and reclaimed him. They later spoke with neighbours trying to track my Aunt down to give him to her. Two months later, they abandoned him again (they lived a long way from the town). We raced him home, he nearly died from a paralysis tick. He turned out to be the most loving best friend we have ever had and is now fourteen years old. Please adopt animals from shelters.


ABSOLUTELY! Animal abandonment is a serious crime and such be treated as such in all cases in all states!