Cost of Care Legislation

What happens after a big cruelty bust? The rescue itself is just the beginning. There’s a side of this that the public typically doesn’t see: Once the dust settles, animals seized in cruelty cases need to be cared for—often for a long period of time while the case winds its way through the court system. If local law enforcement agencies and shelters have to foot the bill, fewer rescues can occur and other needy animals in the community will suffer. Cost of Animal Care laws are the solution.

When animals fall victim to cruelty and are lawfully seized from a dog fighting operation, a hoarding situation or an abusive owner, they are still the property of the person or people from whom they were rescued until a court rules otherwise. This means that the animals cannot be placed in a new home until the animals are legally forfeited, and it can take several months or even years for that to happen. All too often, the animals involved get caught in a legal limbo that leaves them confined in shelters while their alleged abusers await trial. Because the animals are still the property of the alleged abuser, they often cannot be placed in foster homes. Even under the best care, animals held in shelters for long periods of time can experience serious behavioral deterioration due to chronic stress.

During this time, the animals taken into custody must be housed, fed and provided with veterinary care—and it is generally taxpayers and local shelters that are forced to shoulder these expensive costs.

Large-scale or lengthy cases can often break the banks of already cash-strapped shelters, preventing critical resources from going to other homeless, abused or at-risk animals. This also creates an obstacle to effective enforcement of cruelty and fighting laws. If there is no place for seized animals to go or no money to pay for their care, law enforcement may not be able to remove animals from cruelty situations in the first place.

Laws are needed to shift the financial burden back to where it belongs: On the alleged abusers.

One mechanism to address this issue is Cost of Animal Care laws (also known as “bonding and forfeiture” or “unfit owner” laws). A strong Cost of Animal Care law provides for a judicial hearing in which someone who has had his or her animals seized based on evidence of cruelty may be required to either:

  1. post a bond up front to pay for the animals’ care, or
  2. relinquish the animals to a shelter to be placed for adoption.

Cost of Animal Care laws can help defray the oftentimes substantial costs incurred by agencies caring for seized animals, reduce the time seized animals remain in legal limbo unable to be placed in new adoptive homes and also ensure that owners have a full and fair opportunity to be heard by a court.

Cost of Animal Care laws are critical to rescuing animals from cruelty. Read through our FAQ to learn more.

Cost of Animal Care Laws FAQ

This information is kept as current as possible and is updated regularly. It’s important to note that Cost of Animal Care laws vary widely from state to state and even from locality to locality. To learn more about the specifics of your state’s Cost of Animal Care law, please email [email protected].  

What are Cost of Animal Care laws?

Cost of Animal Care laws help prevent shelters and law enforcement from incurring debilitating costs in animal cruelty cases and can help rescued animals find their forever homes sooner, saving money and animal lives.

Cost of Animal Care laws can take many forms, but generally, they establish a legal process, often separate from the criminal trial, that shifts the financial burden of caring for seized animals whose owners are charged with cruelty away from animal shelters and local law enforcement agencies. Strong Cost of Animal Care laws give alleged abusers their day in court, and if the court determines the seizure was lawful and there is sufficient evidence of cruelty or evidence the owner is unfit to care for the animals, a judge can order the owner to either pay for the ongoing care of their animals or to give up ownership and allow them to be rehomed.


Why do states need these laws?

Animal cruelty cases, such as those involving puppy mills or animal fighting, can involve the seizure of dozens or even hundreds of animals. Providing care to these animals for months or years on end while prosecutions unfold can devastate the budgets of local law enforcement agencies and shelters.  

What’s more, animal shelters are sometimes unable to help animals caught in large-scale cruelty cases in the first place because they simply do not have the resources to provide long-term care.

Local communities shouldn’t have to foot the bill in the aftermath of criminal animal abuse. An effective Cost of Animal Care law ensures law enforcement has the tools they need to enforce anti-cruelty laws and that shelters are equipped to provide the necessary care.

How is the amount of the bond determined?

The amount of the bond is typically determined by a judge based on evidence presented by the seizing agency (what animal care costs have already been incurred and what costs they anticipate being incurred).

How is it right to require a bond payment from the defendant before conviction?

The imposition of a bond is not a punishment for committing a crime. It is a requirement to continue paying for the costs of caring for his or her animals when there is sufficient evidence of cruelty and the owner chooses to maintain ownership—costs which, in theory, the owner would be incurring already if he/she was taking proper care of his/her animals. We are all legally responsible for the care of our animals, and taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay the costs of such care for an owner who faces cruelty charges.

Under strong Cost of Animal Care laws, a judge can only request a bond payment if there is sufficient evidence of cruelty. Defendants are legally responsible for their animals, and they do have the opportunity, at the bond hearing, to challenge the evidence presented against them and the bond requested.

Why don't these laws require abusers to pay these costs after conviction instead of beforehand?

Some Cost of Animal Care laws do take this form: they require or authorize judges to order convicted animal abusers to reimburse agencies for the costs of caring for seized animals. Unfortunately, agencies often never receive the money that has been ordered, and this approach still keeps the animals in legal limbo for months or years while the alleged abuser awaits trial. The ASPCA strongly supports these laws, but it is critical that Cost of Animal Care laws provide a process so that shelters can receive money up front for costs of care or can adopt out the animals earlier if the owner does not follow a court order to maintain his/her responsibility to pay for this care.

How do these laws protect the rights of the animal owner?

Good Cost of Animal Care laws provide several layers of protection for the owner. First, they establish a court hearing during which the seizing agency or prosecuting jurisdiction must present evidence of animal cruelty or the owner’s inability to care for the animal, and they must demonstrate that the bond requested is reasonable. The owner is given the opportunity to present his or her side to the judge as well.

What happens if the animal needs to be held as evidence for the criminal case?

In this situation, prosecutors would retain the ability to require that lawfully seized animals be held as evidence until criminal charges are settled, even if the animals have been relinquished to the county or animal shelter.

However, prosecutors typically do not need to hold seized animals as evidence for the entire length of a criminal proceeding. The animals’ conditions are documented immediately after seizure, and the animals are treated and brought back to health. If the animal has been forfeited to the shelter and the prosecutor for the criminal case approves, the animals can be placed into a new home before the outcome of the criminal case.

Can we solve this problem with a federal Cost of Animal Care law?

A federal Cost of Animal Care law could help defray the costs of caring for animals seized under the federal animal fighting law. Right now in federal animal fighting cases, dogs are often held for months or even years while their abusers await trial because the legal mechanisms to secure costs of care up front or custody of seized animals in a timely manner are wholly insufficient. The ASPCA is working to address the Cost of Animal Care issue at the federal level.

Even if we had a strong federal Cost of Animal Care law, every state needs one as well since most anti-cruelty prosecutions happen at the state level.