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. 



the king

that is so so so so so so so sad


Abandoning an animal on the street or in a locked car, closet, apartment or basement seems especially cruel. But don't be fooled -- many shelters do not "euthanize" humanely. Lots of them still gas and heart stick. And larger municipal shelter systems, like NYC Animal Care and Control, do not administer a sedative (to save money) before the final lethal injection, so the animal suffers, awake and alert, while fighting a massive heart attack -- it is not peaceful and it in no way resembles being "put to sleep." These helpless creatures experience unbelievable fear, pain and suffering before they're killed, often within a few days or less of entering the shelter. The takeaway is that most responsible pet guardians would never abandon their pet or take it to a high-kill shelter. It's the irresponsible, uncaring and exploitative among us who abandon their animals without a thought -- whether on the street or at the high-kill shelter.


You couldn't have said it better. Everyone is in uproar over the Sochi Olympic games and what has happened to those poor animals, but we in the U.S. are no different. We pay people to drive around and pick up animals and then destroy the majority through horrible means. People, please open your eyes to what is going on around you. The world is an ugly place and it is our job (people with compassion for others) to step up and fix what the darker side has created.


So what about the states who are suppose to be no longer using gas chambers are they still doing it or no and is there not a way to stop this. if we are trying to help animals from people hurting them on the outside then how can we help them when they are taken to shelters and being done this way? I am in Tn. I thought I had seen somewhere that they do not do gas chambers here anymore. I hear the gas chamber is extremely bad and sounds like the other way is to and its not fair for these babies to be done like this they do nothing wrong


But don't forget the shelters that still kill by Gas Chambers! NO abandonment! If you must, please RE-Home through rescues or reliable advertising. Please don't use Craig's List or an ad "free to a good home" for giving away a pet


i agree animal crulity like that could have proof of the animal dieing!

Doris Anguzza

Maybe you could foster an animal since you could get food and care for free. Just a thought!


Tracy, i hear you loud & clear. I have 3 cats & 1 dog at the moment, lost my elder dog & cat in Oct, Nov 2012. Wish i could adopt another dog but sadly, like you, can't afford it. As it is, my mom helps me out (i'm on disability & the cats i have actually came as strays to my mom's house so she helps out with their costs.) Losing my old dog just killed me inside, & even tho i have another dog, who is the most affectionate i've ever had, my heart is far from healed. Like you i sign a lot of petitions. I am so sickened by what goes on to animals, right now, one of my main focuses is the pitbull mentality man has. Believe me, i would lay down my life for any animal. Hope you can adopt one day soon, i can't imagine how empty it must feel since you grew up with animals.

Christine Franks

Absolutely this should be treated as the CRIME it is and require CONSEQUENCES!!! If someone abandoned a child, they would be charged!


Tracey, having compassion and sharing it with others is helping the animals. Signing petitions is helping the animals. I give $ and have 17 animals, 14 of them adopted, and the best thing that I can do is convince someone that thinks a dog is just a dog, or cat is just a cat, etc. a new way of thinking. I have no doubt that one day you will be in the position to rescue.