Two recent cases that resulted in animal cruelty charges occurred between January and March in Suffolk County, Massachusetts. One of the cases involved a puppy with injuries documented by veterinary staff at the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA), while the second case involved video evidence.

How common are such incidents in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts? More importantly, what type of sentencing do alleged animal abusers face?

Massachusetts Laws

Massachusetts has strong laws against all of the following:

  • Denying an animal a clean environment, veterinary care to treat disease or injury, proper shelter, and adequate food or water
  • Abandoning an animal
  • Transporting an improperly secured animal
  • Torturing or tormenting an animal or allowing such behavior to occur
  • Failing to notify the police or owner after hitting a dog or cat with a vehicle
  • Using animals as bait or lures in cruel ways
  • Giving away live animals as game prizes
  • Attending or participating in animal fighting, including breeding animals to fight
  • Using live invertebrates in exhibitions or experiments that cause pain

How Many Animal Cruelty Cases Happen in Massachusetts Every Year?

The MSPCA handles about 3,000 animal cruelty-related complaints yearly, making such cases a crucial task to handle. Between 2012 and 2015, about 50 of these cases were referred to district courts for prosecution. Since 2016, the  U.S. Department of Justice Federal Bureau of Investigation has dealt with animal cruelty cases separately in its National Incident Based Reporting System.

One of the goals that officials have had since this change occurred was to provide better resources in cases where animal abuse occurs concurrently with child and other domestic abuse. With such cases of abuse occurring simultaneously in many cases, there is an increased need for law enforcement and prosecutors to have the appropriate tools at their disposal.

What Types of Sentences Do Animal Abusers Face?

Massachusetts animal cruelty laws allow for animal cruelty offenses to be prosecuted as felonies. First offenses may carry sentences of 2 1/2 - 7 years and fines of up to $5,000. Further offenses may carry sentences of up to 10 years and $10,000.

In addition to fairly stringent prison sentences and fines, convicted animal abusers also face restrictions on working with or around animals. Legislation has been introduced t the Legislature that would include further restrictions against convicted abusers fostering or adopting. 

See Something, Say Something

As much as everyone hates for it to happen, we might eventually witness something with an animal that requires further investigation. It is essential to know when you might need to report possible animal cruelty and who to report it to. 

Although larger national organizations often come to mind, these groups have no local jurisdiction. They can help refer people to those they need to contact about the suspected cruelty. However, you might lose valuable time reporting the cruelty to someone non-local.

The MSPCA can investigate suspected animal cruelty anywhere in Massachusetts. Additionally, you can report what you see or hear to your city or town police department.  

Document everything about the incident, including photos or videos if possible. If the offender's identity is known, be sure to provide this information. Otherwise, provide a detailed description of the person, their clothing, the location, and vehicle, if applicable.