ANIMAL CRUELTY IS A FELONY IN THE USA
As of 2014, every state in the U.S. has felony provisions for convictions of animal cruelty. More recent provisions make animal cruelty a class A felony in all states, classifying it as the most serious type of charge alongside crimes such as homicide and arson. Conviction of a class A felony involves hefty prison sentences as well as large fines as established by individual states. Beginning in January 2016, individuals convicted of animal cruelty crimes are now being entered into the National Incident Based Reporting System (NIBRS), a database used to record crime by the FBI.
FEDERAL LAWS ENACTED TO PROTECT ANIMALS NATIONWIDE
At the federal level, Congress has repeatedly made it clear that ensuring the humane treatment of animals requires national policies through the passage of federal laws. These laws cover a wide array of animals including; domestic pets, wildlife, livestock, and marine life through statutes including; the Horse Protection Act, the Animal Welfare Act, and the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act.
HORSE PROTECTION ACT
Passed by Congress in 1970, the Horse Protection Act (HPA) is a U.S. federal law, under which the practice of soring is a crime punishable by both civil and criminal penalties, including fines and jail time. "Soring" is defined as the application of any chemical, mechanical agent, or any method intentionally inflicted upon limbs of a horse that cause the horse to suffer physical pain or distress when moving. The abusive practice of soring horses is aimed at producing an exaggerated "big lick" gait for competitive horse shows.
The intent of the HPA is to prohibit the showing, sale, auction, exhibition, or transport of sored horses. However, loopholes in the law allow for horse soring to persist.
PREVENTING ANIMAL CRUELTY AND TORTURE ACT
Signed into law in 2019, the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act makes some of the most egregious forms of animal cruelty a federal crime. Horrific actions include "crush videos" which feature the crushing, burning, drowning, suffocating, or the impaling of small animals—such as puppies, kittens and gerbils. In 2010, the Animal Crush Video Prohibition Act banned the creation and distribution of “crush videos”. The PACT Act goes a step further and bans the underlying animal cruelty contained within them.
ANIMAL WELFARE ACT
Signed into law in 1966, the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) is the primary federal animal protection law. The AWA mainly involves animals kept at zoos and used in laboratories, as well as animals who are commercially bred and sold like those in puppy mills. The AWA directs the Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture to set minimum standards regarding these animals’ “handling, care, treatment, and transportation.” Dog fighting and cockfighting are also prohibited under the Animal Welfare Act, so long as the activity in some way crosses state lines. The AWA itself, as well as its enforcement by the Department of Agriculture, are frequently criticized for allowing inhumane practices to go unchecked.
ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT
Enacted in 1973, the Endangered Species Act protects fish, mammals and birds (as well as plants) listed as threatened or endangered in the United States and beyond. The ESA outlines procedures for federal agencies to follow regarding listed species, as well as criminal and civil penalties for violations. This law is chiefly administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service.
HUMANE SLAUGHTER ACT
The 'Humane Methods of Livestock Slaughter Act" passed in 1958. As amended, the law that is enforced today by the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) was passed as the Humane Slaughter Act of 1978. This Act requires the proper treatment and humane handling of food animals slaughtered in USDA inspected slaughter plants.
Though chickens, turkeys and other birds feel pain just like other animals, they are not protected by this law. Enforcement of this law has been found by government inspectors to be “inconsistent.”
Enacted in 1900, the Lacey Act bans illegal wildlife trafficking. It was the first federal law protecting wild animals. Specifically, it prohibits trade in wildlife and plants that have been illegally taken, possessed, transported, or sold. It also prohibits the falsification of documents regarding the sale and shipment of wildlife. For example, the Lacey Act can be used to prosecute a dealer who sells endangered turtles smuggled from Costa Rica or a roadside zoo who falsifies documents to sell a tiger cub across state lines.
24 HOUR LAW
The “28 Hour Law“, enacted in 1873, requires vehicles transporting certain animals for slaughter to stop every 28 hours to allow the animals exercise, food and water. The law does not apply if the vehicle in which animals are being transported contains access to food or water, and there are many other exceptions as well. Birds like chickens and turkeys, which are the most-farmed animals in the United States, are considered exempt by the federal government.
LACK OF ENFORCEMENT
While the U.S. has laws in place to protect animals from torture and abuse, there's a severe lack of enforcement. The good news is that legislation has been introduced to increase the investigation and prosecution of individuals that are abusing animals under the statutes of federal law. The Animal Cruelty Enforcement (ACE) Act, H.R.1016, would create a dedicated Animal Cruelty Crimes Section at the Department of Justice to help bring those who abuse animals to justice—and will include reporting measures to track the progress.
Studies show that there is a close link between animal cruelty and violence toward people. By supporting the DOJ’s efforts to bring charges against perpetrators of animal cruelty crimes, the ACE Act aims to prevent individuals with a propensity for violence from causing further harm to animals or turning that violence against people in their communities.
PASS THE ACE ACT, H.R.1016
Federal statues that protect animals from cruelty (including horse soring and animal fighting) are rarely prosecuted due to a lack of funding and limited staff. If passed into law, the Animal Cruelty Enforcement (ACE) Act, H.R.1016, would establish a dedicated animal cruelty crimes division within the U.S. Department of Justice. Help pass this crucial legislation by reaching out to your members of Congress.