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. 

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Donna C. Matthews

When you see what ends up happening to abandoned animals who have been abandoned you would truly believe that it is a most cruel crime. It gives me nightmares to think of how much suffering abandoned animals have to endure.


Call the police? Do they really have the time that it takes to file a report and investigate? They would probably laugh at me.

I think that abandoning an animal is abuse and needs more attention and publicity. But what is one to do when the shelters are full and you have a two week wait to surrender the animal? On top of that, the shelter charges to take in a surrender and people don't want to pay.

Sara Steele

I rescued an abandoned pit bull who had been dumped on a country highway in northern New Jersey in January about 17 years ago. She was flagging down traffic in hopes that her people would rectify this terrible mistake. I could never locate her owners--didn't really want to find these cruel people. I kept her. I got her an ILP number with the American Kennel Club as an American Staffordshire Terrier and took her to obedience school. She earned her CGC, 3 CDs, and RN, RA, RE, and RAE3! She went on to live to be 16 years old!

Idene Goldman

I believe animal abandonment anywhere, for any reason, and in any season is animal cruelty. Simple.


If some abandonments aren't done out of pure cruelty, the others are done out of
desperation, and these are the kind that can be more easily prevented through
more info provided by media of all sorts.

Kat in Virginia

Absolutely, animal abandonment is a crime and should receive harsh punishment if the person/s who did that can be found. There are much better ways of finding a new home for an animal if, for whatever reason, someone cannot or does not want to keep it. DON'T ABANDON IT, for God's sake. It's not like they can help themselves~they're totally dependent on people, and for someone to abandon an animal is one of the most cruel things anyone could ever do. To me, is the same as abandoning a toddler. This should be a crime punishable by law nationwide and worldwide. I would sign a million petitions if this could be stopped~just bring 'em on. I have signed quite a few and would sign many more if they were available.


Why don't we petition the White House to change the law regarding considering pets property and not family members. I can't imagine we couldn't garner more than the 100,000 signatures required.




I am happy this beautiful dog has a home now and will be cared for. It is terrible when animals are abandoned or left outside, people do not seem to realize animals are family members they should be treated as such and not discarded. Animals deserve to live in the house and be comftorable, they need love attention food water and treats, adopt from a shelter have your pet spayed or neutered.

Jennifer Williams

Yes indeed people abandon children and that is a crime and considered cruelty so it should be also for a defenseless animal.....