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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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Patty Lettieri

If you abandon a child isn't that a crime so if you adbandon a pet then that should also be a crime.

Tracy B. Jones

I truly believe that abandoning an animal under any circumstance is cruelty and it should be treated like any other animal cruelty in the system. Also, I wish we could afford to donate money a month and help all the animals that don't have homes. I also wish we could afford to adopt one but in our circumstances right now we cannot, as sad as that makes me since I grew up with many animals while living with my parents. One day we will adopt though and I look forward to that day of giving an animal in need of love and care and a family a special home. Until then all I can really do is continue fighting by joining petitions etc.

Geraldine

It is not all about the money, or adopting,its doing what you can, caring enough to sign petitions, report abuse, and even cry at the sadness of it all, shows you have a heart. You care, money does not make someone caring person, the heart does.

Ingrid

What a lovely sentiment, Geraldine, and so nicely said. I have, on too many ocassions, felt such overwhelming grief and sadness over the suffering of animals, espically the wholesale slaughter of mass numbers of them. And while I give what I can monetarily, sometimes all I am compelled to do is weep. It is all about heart and the willingness to do what you can in spite of sparse financial resources.

Earl

Caring is good, but action is also needed. Increasing resources for those who abandon their pets out of desperation would reduce the problem. Potential ways of increasing resources include: Donating directly to rescues in areas with high numbers of abandonments so they can increase their owner-surrender programs; Developing and expanding programs to provide low cost food, medical care, temporary pet care for owners with illnesses, and assistance for seniors all keep pets in their homes; Developing rescues and foster networks in those areas would also help.

Laurie Koppenaal

Earl you touched on a important part of the problem. Many are a single pay check away to losing their home and are by that point at their wits end. I was in such a situation, the stress put me in the hospital for weeks. My mother had recently died and I didn't know of a single person to take in my animals. The Realtor and new owners took my cats and let them lose and my sister took my mom's dog (then let it get hit by a car and die). Of my three dogs I found a home for Rachel (I checked DLs and the woman seemed to be genuine but when I tried to call the number she had given me - no answer). MY fella, Mooch had to be placed in the shelter near me as I had no car then - I doubt he ever left. My heart is still heavy after 15 years, I think I see my girl Rachel even though I know it is impossible after all these years. I cannot tell you how much I and my animals needed a place to turn to for help. The shelter was not it; the depth of disdain the woman a the desk showed made it a hundred times worse. Never did she or anyone (except the man that gave me the ride there) show any compassion. I thank you for your kind thoughts you shared.

EarlGrayHot

I agree. Some people let animals loose thinking they will fend for themselves instead of taking them to a shelter because they fear the animal will be put down. While I wish all shelters were no-kill, it's still more humane if down by injection than letting an animal starve to death or be injured or die by freezing.

Toni

I totally agree. I know in North Carolina it's Felony Animal Abuse to abandon an animal.

Deb

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.

Natalie

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.

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