Prosecutors and Animal Welfare Advocates Develop Principles to Combat Animal Cruelty

Crimes against animals treated as violent offenses
March 3, 2014

WASHINGTON, DCThe Association of Prosecuting Attorneys (APA), in coordination with animal welfare advocates, including the ASPCA® (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals®), recently released a statement of principles to provide prosecutors and criminal justice partners with the training and resources necessary to raise awareness of the connection between animal abuse and other violent crimes.

As a national association dedicated to supporting and enhancing the effectiveness of prosecutors in their efforts to create safer communities, ensure justice, and uphold public safety, the APA hereby submits this statement of principles regarding the prosecution of animal cruelty crimes:

  • Animals are sentient beings with the undeniable capacity to suffer pain.
  • Every state’s criminal code recognizes animals’ capacity to suffer, with 49 states identifying certain acts of animal cruelty as felonies.
  • There is a direct link between the criminal acts of animal abuse and interpersonal violence including murder, child abuse, domestic violence, and elder abuse.
  • Under-enforcement of animal cruelty laws is directly correlated to a host of corrosive societal ills—such as animal fighting in gangs and the harming or killing of companion animals in domestic violence situations.
  • Animal cruelty, both active and passive, is a crime of violence, and as such requires a prosecutor’s full attention, with the accompanying allocation of resources to hold the offenders accountable and achieve just results.
  • Prosecutors, in exercising their professional discretion, should give animal cruelty cases priority and make certain they are handled in the same professional manner as other crimes of violence.

“The key to combating violence against animals is for law enforcement to handle animal cruelty crimes just like other crimes of violence,” said APA President David LaBahn.  “There is a link between animal abusers and other types of interpersonal violence including child abuse, domestic violence and elder abuse, and prosecutors are aggressively addressing this link.”

“The APA is sending a clear message that crimes against animals will not be tolerated in our society, and that perpetrators will be held accountable for their actions,” said Matt Bershadker, president and CEO of the ASPCA. “Their admirable action is crucial to help protect victimized and neglected animals and to elevate animal cruelty as a serious offense worthy of constant enforcement and vigorous prosecution.”

APA, with assistance from the U.S. Department of Justice, animal welfare organizations, and other law enforcement officials, continues to develop training resources for prosecutors including hosting an annual animal abuse conference, conducting webinars, and distributing the Lex Canis newsletter.