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Cruelty to Animals in D.C.

It is a criminal offense in Washington, D.C. to overwork, torture, beat, “cruelly chain” or otherwise neglect or abuse an animal.  Below are answers to a number of frequently asked questions.

What is animal cruelty in D.C .?
What is the maximum penalty for a conviction for animal cruelty?
Will I go jail for animal cruelty in D.C.?
Is there special treatment for first time offenders?
Do I need a lawyer?

What is animal cruelty in D.C .?

In order to secure a conviction for misdemeanor animal cruelty in Washington, D.C., the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant overworked, tortured, beat, “cruelly chained,” or otherwise neglected or abused the animal.  The government must also prove that the abuse or neglect was done purposefully or knowingly.

The “cruel chaining” of an animal is defined as the “attaching” of an animal to a “stationary object or pulley by means of a chain, rope, tether, leash, cable or similar restraint under circumstances that may endanger its health, safety or well-being.”  This includes situations in which the attachment causes the animal to choke or is too short for the animal to urinate and defecate in an area that is separate from the area in which the animal must eat, drink or lie down.

What is the maximum penalty for a conviction for animal cruelty?

The offense is punishable as a misdemeanor by imprisonment of up to 180 days and/or a maximum fine of $250.  The court may also order a person convicted of this offense to undergo psychological or psychiatric counseling; to participate in an animal cruelty prevention or education program; to forfeit any right in the animal(s) subjected to the cruelty; and to forego ownership or possession of an animal for a specified period of time.

It is a felony offense to abuse or neglect an animal with the intention of killing it or causing serious bodily injury.  A defense to this charge is a reasonable apprehension of an imminent attack by an undomesticated and dangerous animal, such as a rat, bat, or snake.

 The offense is punishable as a felony by up to 5 years in prison and a fine of up to $25,000.  D.C. Criminal Code § 22-1001.  D.C. Criminal Code § 22-1002.

Will I go to jail for animal cruelty in D.C.?

The court will consider a number of different factors in deciding whether to incarcerate a person who has been convicted of misdemeanor or felony cruelty to animals.  One major factor will be the person’s prior history with the criminal justice system.  

Is there special treatment for first time offenders?

People who have never been arrested before may be eligible for some type of diversion program for first-time offenders.  

Do I need a lawyer?

Although you do have the constitutional right to defend yourself in a criminal matter, the court will strongly discourage you from doing so given the stakes involved.  If you cannot afford a lawyer, the court will appoint one to represent you.  

Last updated:  September 7, 2023