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. 



carly chichester

In TOTAL agreement with Patty Lettiei......the crime is the same, and so should the punishment be.

Barbara McGranahan

I agree, it should be a crime to abandon a animal just as it would be to abandon a child in the freezing cold. These people are less than human!!!


I totally agree. It's a crime and should be prosecuted just like child abandonment.

donald j dixon

What Patty said!

ken wellington

absolutely !,if you take on the responsibility of caring for an animal it is for life not until a pet becomes an inconvenience,i cant understand the absolute cruelty of people who just discard their pets like garbage,in my opinion if you abandon or abuse a pet it should be a "CLASS-A FELONY",


Exactly Patty! My spouse can sue me for abandonment just for walking away from the home. Abandoning an animal should absolutely be against the law.


I agree with you Patty!!!

judy fritz

One of the worse stories I saw about abandoment was on animal planet. Someone had tied a puppy with a chain around the toilet bowl and let the dog there. Possible some water was left but by the time the puppy was found he/she had died. They did a necropsy on the dog and found parts of the food bowl that had been eaten as the hunger was too much. How could anyone do anything like that so inhuman and cruel.

Pam Woods

I completely agree! I believe that if there were more strict fines / or jail time these inhumane people who do such cruel things to animals would think twice before doing it! And...I don't mean just a slap on the wrist and a little fine. Put them in jail just the same as if you did it to a child!


I agree.