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. 



Patricia Laird

I wonder just how many that are charged with animal cruelty, in any way, do get the punishment they deserve. I wouldn't hesitate for one minute to punish them the same way they abuse innocent animals who just want to love and be loved.
Too bad, so sad.


7 years ago we moved to Scarborough with 4 cats. We live in a house in the middle of a fairly well-to-do neighborhood. Every year in February or March or November an abandoned cat shows up on my doorstep hungry and thirsty. My fifth cat - a handsome male, 2 yrs old at that time in February - had a microchip through which we identified the cat's former owner living at Bathurst and Finch. She was not willing to answer to letters and phone calls, so I had the cat neutered and adopted the little guy. I am getting slowly paranoid towards November, as I have had a full house this February.


OF COURSE IT'S CRUELTY! Should be a felony and those who do something so heinous should be in prison for no less than 5 years. I mean we put people who get caught with a couple of joints in prison for as much time. Wake up Justice Department! This is an extremely heinous crime. Doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure this one out. Shame on the courts, on the police, on the prosecutors! SHAME!!!!!!!!!!!!!

barbara elias

I think the abandonment of an animal should be treated just like the abandonment of a child or and elderly person that you are responsible for. If you abandon a child, it can't defend for it's self, find shelter, food and everything else that goes with abandonment. An animal just can't speak and say please help me, I'm hungry, I'm cold, I'm scared and all the other things that happen to helpless animals. I think that laws should be passed to protect animals just as they are supposed to protect humans. But there are so many people that are not human. They are cruel monsters.

Diane Jacobs

If it not a felony in some states,THEN MAKE IT ONE xx


To a companion animal, abandonment is the ultimate cruelty.


Of course it's cruelty!!!same thing if you let your 3 yr.old in the freezing cold!!!WE NEED TO STOP ANIMAL ABUSE IN ALL FORMS!!!IF YOU DON'T WANT IT DONE TO YOU,DON'T DO IT TO AN ANIMAL!!!!


Yes it is abandonment. Any living being left.. is abandonment. I hope this law is air lock tightened. I also hope they found the owner who left Callie and I hope we lock down on shelters that are not treating animals with respect and dignity. All shelters should be a NO KILL shelter. If humans rally together money can always be raised and resources to help can be found. Humans just have to want to do the work!


OMG 6 - 8 million companion animals entering shelters each year is an astounding number. How can we sleep at night?

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I adopted a cat (ironically, whom I named "Cali" for her calico tortoise coloring) who was abandoned in my parents town. My mother found her starving, skin and bones, eating leaves in their driveway. It has been one of my biggest blessings in life to make her life now the happiest and most loving as possible. Despite that, it has take years to build up the trust with her because she has been truly traumatized by her circumstances. She's one of the lucky ones and it makes me sick that anyone could be so cruel to abandon anything living that only knows how to rely on humans. Animals don't have a voice, so we must be one for them. I'm so glad there are charities and people that do so much for them. I donate to the SPCA and Humane Society for this reason and continue to encourage others to donate. THANKS FOR ALL YOU DO!