Animal Abuse Crimes

Animal abuse is a serious crime and could result in a long imprisonment. While this law is not limited to pet owners, a pet owner who abuses their pet will suffer the same charge. Under Penal Code section 597, it is unlawful to maliciously and intentionally harm or kill a domesticated animal. (The law also applies to other animals but the focus here is on domestic pets.) While animal abuse such as physically harming or killing a pet is an obvious violation, leaving a pet out in the hot sun or freezing cold or leaving a pet alone for many days without adequate food or water may find the pet owner in violation of this law.

Simple neglect of your pet can lead to this charge. For example, not caring for your pet’s serious health condition that results in your pet’s suffering, may be considered malicious harm. A dog with untreated mange is enough. Note that the law does provide a defense if you do not have the financial means to care for the condition. However, even though you might successfully present this defense, the animal will likely be taken from your custody.

To be guilty of this crime, a person must have acted maliciously. The offender must have intended to harm the animal. For example, if a pet owner goes on vacation and hires a pet sitter but the pet sitter, unbeknownst to the pet’s owner, fails to provide care for the pet, causing the pet to suffer for lack of food and water, the pet’s owner did not act maliciously.

Violation of this statute can be charged as a misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in county jail and a maximum $20,000 fine or as a felony, with a penalty of up to three years state imprisonment and a maximum $20,000 fine.

Less serious animal abuse crimes include:

Dog Tethering

In years past, it was common to tether a dog to a post or other object; now it is considered animal cruelty. It is a crime in California to tether or chain a dog to a stationary object under Health and Safety Code section 122335. Exceptions to this law include temporarily tethering a dog in order to complete a task, tethering a dog if required in a campground or recreational area, and tethering to line that allows the dog movement such as hooking up to a running line, pulley, or trolley system. 

Don’t’ take this statute lightly. Concerned Orange County neighbors often call authorities when they see a dog chained and the offense can be charged as a misdemeanor, although a first-time violation is more likely to be charged as an infraction. An infraction is punishable fine of up to $250 for each dog while a misdemeanor conviction (especially if there have been multiple violations) is punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 for each dog and incarceration in county jail for up to 6 months. Even though the penalty is not severe, it is a good idea to consult with an experienced criminal lawyer who may be able to easily get the charge dismissed.

Keeping an Animal Confined in an Enclosed Area

Closely related to the tethering offense is Penal Code 597t, which makes it a violation to keep an animal confined in a closed space without an area for adequate exercise. Most often, this violation occurs when an animal, particularly a dog, is kept in a crate for long periods of time. It is not unusual in Orange County for a person who observes an animal so confined to call the authorities. A violation of this statute is a misdemeanor, which can carry jail time.

Confining an Animal in an Unattended Motor Vehicle

If you leave your animal in your vehicle under conditions that could endanger the animal’s health or well-being you are in violation of Penal Code section 597.7. The law describes these conditions as “heat, cold, lack of adequate ventilation, or lack of food or water” or other conditions that might cause the animal to suffer or die. The law even allows a person who observes an animal under these circumstances to forcibly enter the vehicle and rescue the animal if that person believes the animal is in danger.

This crime is punishable as an infraction with a fine of up to $100 per animal unless the animal or animals suffer great bodily injury. In that case, the is punishable by a fine of up to $500 and/or imprisonment in county jail for up to six months.

This charge may be defended on the individual facts that show that the animal’s health and well-being was not endangered. As with the tethering law, it is a good idea to consult a criminal defense attorney as the evidence might be weak and easily dismissed.

Cockfighting and Dogfighting

We don’t see these violations in Orange County that often but if you are charged with these crimes, you should contact a criminal defense attorney immediately, as the crimes are serious and  punishable by large fines and incarceration in county jail or even state prison. Both crimes prohibit exploiting animal for entertainment.

Cock fighting is a misdemeanor crime punishable by imprisonment in county jail for up to one year and/or a fine of up to $10,000. Any subsequent violations of this statute can be charged as a felony carrying the possibility of imprisonment of up to three years in state prison. Someone who provides their premises for cock fighting is just as guilty of the crime as those who provide the animals.

Dog fighting is a serious crime that can result in felony charges with a fine of up to $50,000 and up to three years imprisonment. Not only is it illegal to hold dog fights, but it is unlawful own or train a dog to engage in dogfighting. Dogfight spectators are also guilty of a misdemeanor crime and if convicted can face a fine of up to $5,000 and/or up one year incarceration in county jail.

Contact Orange County Animal Cruelty Defense Attorney William Weinberg for Help

If you have been charged with an animal cruelty offense, Orange County criminal defense attorney William Weinberg can help. Feel free to contact him for a free consultation at (949) 474-8008 or by emailing him at

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