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File:Chat plombé.jpg

Chest X-ray of a shot cat. White spots are lead shot.

Cruelty to animals or animal abuse is the infliction of suffering or harm upon animals, other than humans, for purposes other than self-defense. More narrowly, it can be harm for specific gain, such as killing animals for food or for their fur. Diverging viewpoints are held by jurisdictions throughout the world.

Broadly speaking, there are two approaches to the issue. The animal welfare position holds that there is nothing inherently wrong with using animals for human purposes, such as food, clothing, entertainment, and research, but that it should be done in a humane way that minimizes unnecessary pain and suffering. Animal rights theorists criticize this position, arguing that the words "unnecessary" and "humane" are subject to widely differing interpretations, and that the only way to ensure protection for animals is to end their status as property, and to ensure that they are never used as commodities. Laws concerning animal cruelty are designed to prevent needless cruelty to animals, rather than killing for other aims such as food, or they concern species not eaten as food in the country involved, such as those regarded as pets.

In law

Many jurisdictions around the world have enacted statutes which forbid cruelty to some animals but these vary by country and in some cases by the use or practice.


In Australia, many states have enacted legislation outlawing cruelty to animals, however, it is argued that welfare laws do not adequately extend to production animals.[1] Whilst police maintain an overall jurisdiction in prosecution of criminal matters, in many states officers of the RSPCA and other animal welfare charities are accorded authority to investigate and prosecute animal cruelty offenses.


As of 2006 there were no laws in China governing acts of cruelty to animals.[2] In certain jurisdictions such as Fuzhou, dog control officers may kill any unaccompanied dogs on sight. However, the People's Republic of China is currently in the process of making changes to its stray-dog population laws in the capital city, Beijing. Mr. Zheng Gang who is the director of the Internal and Judicial Committee which comes under the Beijing Municipal People's Congress (BMPC), supports the new draft of the Beijing Municipal Regulation on Dogs from the local government. This new law is due to replace the current Beijing Municipal Regulation on Dog Ownership, introduced in 1889. The current regulation talks of "strictly" limiting dog ownership and controlling the number of dogs in the city. The new draft focuses instead on "strict management and combining restrictions with management."[3] There are no government supported charitable organizations like the RSPCA, which monitors the cases on animal cruelty, so that all kinds of animal abuses, such as to fish, tigers, and bears, are to be reported for law enforcement and animal welfare.[4][5][6][7][8][9]

In September 2009, legislation was drafted to address deliberate cruelty to animals in China. If passed, the legislation would offer some protection to pets, captive wildlife and animals used in laboratories, as well as regulating how farm animals are raised, transported and slaughtered.[10]

Hong Kong

Hong Kong has a law titled "Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance", with a maximum 3 year imprisonment and fines of HKD$200,000.[11]


Animal experiments are regulated by the 2000 Law for the Humane Treatment and Management of Animals, which was amended in 2006.[12] This law requires those using animals to follow the principles outlined in the 3Rs and use as few animals as possible, and cause minimal distress and suffering. Regulation is at a local level based on national guidelines, but there are no governmental inspections of institutions and no reporting requirement for the numbers of animals used.[13]


Egyptian law states that anyone who inhumanely beats or intentionally kills any domesticated animal may be jailed or fined,[14] however, these laws are rarely enforced. The Egyptian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was established by the British over a hundred years ago, and is currently administered by the Egyptians. The SPCA was instrumental in promoting a 1997 ban on bullfighting in Egypt.[15]

In the ancient Egyptian law, the killers of cats or dogs were executed.[16][17]

Saudi Arabia

Despite passages in the Qur'an advocating positive treatment of animals, veterinarian Lana Dunn and several Saudi nationals report that there are no laws to protect animals from cruelty since the term is not well-defined within the Saudi legal system. They point to a lack of a governing body to supervise conditions for animals, particularly in pet stores and in the exotic animal trade with East Africa.[18]


The Taiwanese Animal Protection Act was passed in 1998, imposing fines up to NT$250,000 for cruelty. Criminal penalties for animal cruelty were enacted in 2007, including a maximum of 1 year imprisonment.[19]


Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, and Austria have all banned battery cages for egg-laying hens. The entire European Union is phasing out battery cages by 2012.[20] It is also illegal in many parts of Europe to declaw a cat.[21]


In Germany, killing animals or causing significant pain (or prolonged or repeated pain) to them is punishable by imprisonment of up to three years or a financial penalty.[22] If the animal is of foreign origin, the act may also be punishable as criminal damage.[23]


Acts of cruelty against animals can be punished with imprisonment, for a minimum of three months up to a maximum of three years, and with a fine ranging from a minimum of 3.000,00 Euro to a maximum of 160.000,00 Euro, as for the law n°189/2004.[24] The law was passed mainly to crush the phenomenon of dog fighting, which in Italy is a clandestine blood sport fully controlled by organized crime.

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, cruelty to animals is a criminal offence for which one may be jailed for up to 51 weeks and may be fined up to £20,000.[25]

On August 18, 1911, the House of Commons introduced the Protection of Animals Act 1911 (c.27) following lobbying by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). The maximum punishment was 6 months of "hard labour" with a fine of 25 pounds.[26]


The Swiss animal protection laws are among the strictest in the world, comprehensively regulating the treatment of animals including the size of rabbit cages, and the amount of exercise that must be provided to dogs.[27]

In the canton of Zurich an animal lawyer, Antoine Goetschel, is employed by the canton government to represent the interests of animals in animal cruelty cases.[28]


In Mexico, there are little to no animal cruelty laws, however, it has been suggested that animal cruelty laws are slowly being implemented. The country's current policy usually condemns physical harm to animals as property damage to the owners of the abused animal. The Law of Animal Protection of the Federal District is wide-ranging, based on banning 'unnecessary suffering'. Similar laws now exist in most states. However, this is disregarded by much of the public and authorities.[29]

United States

The primary federal law relating to animal care and conditions in the US is the Animal Welfare Act of 1966, amended in 1970, 1976, 1985, 1990, 2002 and 2007. It is the only Federal law in the United States that regulates the treatment of animals in research, exhibition, transport, and by dealers. Other laws, policies, and guidelines may include additional species coverage or specifications for animal care and use, but all refer to the Animal Welfare Act as the minimum acceptable standard.[30]

The AWA has been criticized by animal rights groups for excluding birds, rats and mice bred for research, as well as animals intended to be used for food or fiber; as well as all cold-blooded animals.[31]

The Animal Legal Defense Fund releases an annual report ranking the animal protection laws of every state based on their relative strength and general comprehensiveness. In 2008's report, the top five states for their strong anti-cruelty laws were California, Illinois, Maine, Michigan, and Oregon. The five states with the weakest animal cruelty laws were Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Mississippi, and North Dakota.[32]

In Massachusetts and New York, agents of humane societies and associations may be appointed as special officers to enforce statutes outlawing animal cruelty.[33]

In 2004, a Florida legislator proposed a ban on "cruelty to bovines," stating: "A person who, for the purpose of practice, entertainment, or sport, intentionally fells, trips, or otherwise causes a cow to fall or lose its balance by means of roping, lassoing, dragging, or otherwise touching the tail of the cow commits a misdemeanor of the first degree."[34] The proposal did not become law.[34]

In the United States, ear cropping, tail docking, the Geier Hitch, rodeo sports, and other acts are sometimes condoned. Penalties for cruelty can be minimal, if pursued. Currently, 46 of the 50 states have enacted felony penalties for certain forms of animal abuse.[35] However, in most jurisdictions, animal cruelty is most commonly charged as a misdemeanor offense. In one recent California case, a felony conviction for animal cruelty could theoretically net a 25 year to life sentence due to their three-strikes law, which increases sentences based on prior felony convictions.[36]

In 2003, West Hollywood, California passed an ordinance banning declawing of house cats.[37] In 2007, Norfolk, Virginia passed legislation only allowing the procedure for medical reasons.[38] However, most jurisdictions allow the procedure.

Welfare laws

Several states have enacted or considered laws in support of humane farming.

  • On November 5, 2002, Florida voters passed Amendment 10 by a margin of 55% for, amending the Florida Constitution to ban the confinement of pregnant pigs in gestation crates.[39]
  • On January 14, 2004, the bill AB-732 died in the California Assembly's Agriculture Committee.[40] The bill would have banned gestation and veal crates, eventually being amended to include only veal crates.[41] On May 9, 2007, the bill AB-594 was withdrawn from the California State Assembly. The bill had been effectively killed in the Assembly Agriculture Committee, by replacing the contents of the bill with language concerning tobacco cessation coverage under Medi-Cal.[42] AB-594 was very similar to the current language of Proposition 2.[43]
  • On November 7, 2006, Arizona voters passed Proposition 204 with 62% support. The measure prohibits the confinement of calves in veal crates and breeding sows in gestation crates.[44]
  • On June 28, 2007, Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski signed a measure into law prohibiting the confinement of pigs in gestation crates (SB 694, 74th Leg. Assembly, Regular Session).[45]
  • In January 2008, Nebraska State Senate bill LB 1148, to ban the use of gestation crates for pig farmers, was withdrawn within 5 days amidst controversy.[46]
  • On May 14, 2008, Colorado Governor Bill Ritter signed into law a bill, SB 201, that phases out gestation crates and veal crates.[47][48]


The Animal Legal Defense Fund releases an annual report ranking the animal protection laws of every province and territory based on their relative strength and general comprehensiveness. In 2009's report, the top four, for their strong anti-cruelty laws, were British Columbia, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, and Ontario. The worst four were New Brunswick, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and Quebec.[49]

In theory and practice

There are many reasons why individuals abuse animals. Animal cruelty covers a wide range of actions (or lack of action). Learning about animal abuse has revealed patterns of behavior employed by abusers.[50]

Animal cruelty is often broken down into two main categories: active and passive, also referred to as commission and omission, respectively.

Passive cruelty is typified by cases of neglect, in which the cruelty is a lack of action rather than the action itself. Examples of neglect are starvation, dehydration, parasite infestations, allowing a collar to grow into an animal’s skin, inadequate shelter in extreme weather conditions, and failure to seek veterinary care when necessary.

In many cases of neglect in which an investigator believes that the cruelty occurred out of ignorance, the investigator may attempt to educate the pet owner, then revisit the situation. In more severe cases, exigent circumstances may require that the animal be removed for veterinary care.

Active cruelty implies malicious intent, as when a person has deliberately and intentionally caused harm to an animal, and is sometimes referred to as NAI (Non-Accidental Injury). Acts of intentional animal cruelty may be indicators of serious psychological problems.[51] There is an intrinsic link between battered pets and battered women and children. The likelihood that women's shelter personnel will encounter women and children who have been threatened by batterers using animal abuse as a weapon is high. This is because more families in America have pets than have children. Secondly, the majority of pet owners are themselves parents with children. Thirdly, 64.1% of households with children under age 6, and 74.8% of households with children over age 6, also have pets. Lastly, as many as 71% of pet-owning women seeking shelter at safe houses have reported that their partner had threatened and/or actually hurt or killed one or more of their pets; 32% of these women reported that one or more of their children had also hurt or killed pets. Battered women report that they are prevented from leaving their abusers because they fear what will happen to the animals in their absence. Animal abuse sometimes is used as a form of intimidation in domestic disputes.[52]


Animal testing, Traditional medicine

Psychological disorders

One of the known warning signs of certain psychopathologies, including anti-social personality disorder, also known as psychopathic personality disorder, is a history of torturing pets and small animals, a behavior known as zoosadism. According to the New York Times, "[t]he FBI has found that a history of cruelty to animals is one of the traits that regularly appears in its computer records of serial rapists and murderers, and the standard diagnostic and treatment manual for psychiatric and emotional disorders lists cruelty to animals a diagnostic criterion for conduct disorders.[53] "A survey of psychiatric patients who had repeatedly tortured dogs and cats found all of them had high levels of aggression toward people as well, including one patient who had murdered a young boy."[53] Robert K. Ressler, an agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation's behavioral sciences unit, studied serial killers and noted,"Murderers like this (Jeffrey Dahmer) very often start out by killing and torturing animals as kids."[54]

Cruelty to animals is one of the three components of the Macdonald triad, indicators of violent antisocial behavior in children and adolescents. According to the studies used to form this model, cruelty to animals is a common (but not with every case) behavior in children and adolescents who grow up to become serial killers and other violent criminals.

It has also been found that children who are cruel to animals have often witnessed or been victims of abuse themselves.[55] In two separate studies cited by the Humane Society of the United States roughly one-third of families suffering from domestic abuse indicated that at least one child had hurt or killed a pet.[56]

TV & film making

Animal cruelty has long been an issue with the art form of filmmaking, with even some big-budget Hollywood films receiving criticism for allegedly harmful—and sometimes lethal—treatment of animals during production. One of the most infamous examples of animal cruelty in film was Michael Cimino's legendary flop Heaven's Gate, in which numerous animals were brutalized and even killed during production. Cimino allegedly killed chickens and bled horses from the neck to gather samples of their blood to smear on actors for Heaven's Gate, and also allegedly had a horse blown up with dynamite while shooting a battle sequence, the shot of which made it into the film. After the release of the film Reds, the star and director of the picture, Warren Beatty apologized for his Spanish film crew's use of tripwires on horses while filming a battle scene, when Beatty wasn't present. Tripwires were used against horses when Rambo III and The Thirteenth Warrior were being filmed. An ox was sliced nearly in half during production of Apocalypse Now, while a donkey was bled to death for dramatic effect for the film Manderlay, in a scene later cut from the film.

Cruelty in film exists in movies outside the United States. There is a case of cruelty to animals in the South Korean film The Isle, according to its director Kim Ki-Duk.[57] In the film, a real frog is skinned alive while fish are mutilated. Several animals were killed for the camera in the controversial Italian film Cannibal Holocaust.[58] The images in the film include the slow and graphic beheading and ripping apart of a turtle, a monkey being beheaded and its brains being consumed by natives and a spider being chopped apart. In fact, Cannibal Holocaust was only one film in a collective of similarly themed movies (cannibal films) that featured unstaged animal cruelty. Their influences were rooted in the films of Mondo filmmakers, which sometimes contained similar content. In several countries, such as the UK, Cannibal Holocaust was only allowed for release with most of the animal cruelty edited out.

More recently, the video sharing site YouTube has been criticized for hosting thousands of videos of real life animal cruelty, especially the feeding of one animal to another for the purposes of entertainment and spectacle. Although some of these videos have been flagged as inappropriate by users, YouTube has generally declined to remove them, unlike videos which include copyright infringement.[59][60]

The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) has contracted with the American Humane Association (AHA) for monitoring of animal use during filming or while on the set.[61] Compliance with this arrangement is voluntary and only applies to films made in the United States. Films monitored by the American Humane Association may bear one of their end-credit messages. Many productions, including those made in the US, do not advise AHA or SAG of animal use in films, so there is no oversight.[62]

Simulations of animal cruelty exist on television, too. On the September 23, 1999 edition of WWE Smackdown!, a plot line had professional wrestler Big Boss Man trick fellow wrestler Al Snow into appearing to eat his pet chihuahua Pepper.[63][64]


The use of animals in the circus has been controversial since animal welfare groups have documented instances of animal cruelty during the training of performing animals. The Humane Society of the United States has documented multiple cases of abuse and neglect,[65] and cite several reasons for opposing the use of animals in circuses, including confining enclosures, lack of regular veterinary care, abusive training methods and lack of oversight by regulating bodies.[66] Animal trainers have argued that some criticism is not based in fact, including beliefs that animals are 'hurt' by being shouted at, that caging is cruel and common, and the harm caused by the use of whips, chains or training implements.[67]

In 2009, Bolivia passed legislation banning the use of any animals, wild or domestic, in circuses. The law states that circuses "constitute an act of cruelty." Circus operators had one year from the bill's passage on July 1, 2009 to comply.[68]

In 2010, Lebanese animal rights groups became enraged when it was learned that wild performing animals belonging to the Monte Carlo Circus were transported from Egypt to Lebanon without being provided with food and water.[69]


Following the campaign, new regulations were enacted that prohibit the use of animals in circuses in Israel. Finland and Singapore have restricted the use of animals in entertainment. The UK and Scottish Parliaments have committed to ban certain wild animals in travelling circuses and approximately 200 local authorities in the UK have banned all animal acts on council land.[citation needed] Animal acts are still very popular throughout much of Europe, the Americas and Asia. In the United States animal welfare standards are overseen by the United States Department of Agriculture under provisions of the Animal Welfare Act. Efforts to ban circus animals in cities like Denver, Colorado have been rejected by voters. Some circuses now present animal-free acts.[70]

Crush films

Animal snuff films, known as crush films can be found on the Internet. These films depict instances of animal cruelty, and/or pornographic acts with animals, usually involving the crushing death of an animal, including insects, mice, rats, guinea pigs, hamsters, monkeys, birds, cats, and dogs. In 1999, the U.S. government banned the depiction of animal cruelty, however the law was overturned by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals which ruled that the category "depiction of animal cruelty" contained in the law was not an exception to First Amendment protections.[71] In an 8–1 decision handed down in April 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed with the lower court's ruling, but on the grounds that the law was unconstitutionally broad. The case itself did not involve crush films, but rather, a video that in part depicted dogfighting.[72]


File:Q 005717HoreseInGasMaskPilckemRidge31October1917.jpg

A horse with a gas mask during World War I

Military animals are creatures that have been employed by humankind for use in warfare. They are a specific application of working animals. Examples include horses, dogs and dolphins. Only recently has the involvement of animals in war been questioned, and practices such as using animals for fighting, as living bombs (as in the use of exploding donkeys) or for military testing purposes (such as during the Bikini atomic experiments) may now be criticised for being cruel.[73][74] Princess Royal, the patron of the British Animals in War Memorial, stated that animals adapt to what humans want them to do, but that they will not do things that they don't want to, despite training.[75] Animal participation in human conflict was commemorated in the United Kingdom in 2004 with the erection of the Animals in War Memorial in Hyde Park, London.[76]

In 2008 a video of a US Marine throwing a puppy over a cliff during the Iraq conflict was popularised as an internet phenomenon and attracted widespread criticism of the soldier's actions for being an act of cruelty.[77]


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Further reading

  • Arluke, Arnold. Brute Force: Animal Police and the Challenge of Cruelty, Purdue University Press (August 15, 2004), hardcover, 175 pages, ISBN 1-55753-350-4. An ethnographic study of humane law enforcement officers.
  • Lea, Suzanne Goodney (2007). Delinquency and Animal Cruelty: Myths and Realities about Social Pathology, hardcover, 168 pages, ISBN 978-1-59332-197-0. Lea challenges the argument made by animal rights activists that animal cruelty enacted during childhood is a precursor to human-directed violence.
  • Munro H. (The battered pet (1999) In F. Ascione & P. Arkow (Eds.) Child Abuse, Domestic Violence, and Animal Abuse. West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press, 199–208.

External links


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