Animals are deemed helpless like children, and violence against them is regarded as heinous. A judge will not hesitate to sentence an animal owner or someone responsible for caring for and protecting animals to prison. Maliciously harming, torturing, neglecting, killing, or maltreating animals is a serious offense that is harshly punished.

Nonetheless, not everyone charged with animal abuse and cruelty is guilty. California has multiple animal rights groups with hotlines to report alleged or known animal cruelty to the authorities. Veterinarians are also required to report any cases of animal abuse. With increased vigilance, people make inaccurate reporting resulting in false charges and convictions. At the Los Angeles Criminal Attorney, we are ready to defend you against the counts and prove your innocence. 

Animal Abuse Definition

California PEN 597 defines animal abuse and cruelty as the malicious killing, abuse, maiming, or maltreating of a living animal. The animals protected under this statute are:

  • Domesticated pets
  • Farm animals
  • Strays
  • Wild animals
  • Companion animals.

These charges arise when you are reported to the authorities for alleged or known cruelty or abuse towards animals. The police are not always present to witness these cases. PEN 597 remedies the situation by requiring everyone to be vigilant and report animal abuse incidents to the local law enforcers or animal rights groups through hotlines. Besides, PEN 597 requires veterinarians to report animal neglect or abuse cases.

California is proactive in protecting animal rights, which explains why a particular law enforcement unit has been established to deal with animal cruelty, neglect, and abuse. With the aggressiveness of these cases being prosecuted, it is crucial to have an experienced attorney by your side to protect your rights and freedom.

PEN 597 Elements

The District Attorney (DA) or prosecutor handling your charges must prove the following elements to obtain a conviction for animal abuse:

  • You harmed, mutilated, tortured, or killed a live animal
  • Your conduct was malicious

Torture refers to action, inaction, or neglect that causes an animal needless physical injury, pain, and suffering.

Maim refers to permanently incapacitating or scarring an animal or removing a limb, organ, or body part. 

The prosecutor must also demonstrate malicious abuse or neglect. Malicious means acting intentionally or on purpose. If the prosecutor can show you knowingly engaged in torturing, maiming, or killing of an animal, you will be guilty of PEN 597 violation.

Animal Abuse Examples

A violation of PEN 597 happens in many ways. Some examples of these violations are:

  • A long-distance truck driver who leaves pets without sufficient water or food for days
  • Intentionally tossing a pet into oncoming traffic, causing it to be run over
  • Confining a dog outside in extremely hot or cold conditions

Different Types of Animal Abuse under the California Penal Code

Animal cruelty or abuse can happen in different ways under California law. The specific PEN 597 subsections that apply to animal abuse are discussed below:

  1. PEN 597b Cockfighting

Per California PEN 597b, organizing a fighting match for two cocks or roosters is illegal for amusement or financial gain. Cockfighting has been going on for millennia. It involves two cocks or roosters tied with knives or gaffs on the legs and placed in a cockpit to scratch, bite or kick each other until one is dead. People visit these fighting arenas to place a wager to earn profit from the winning cock. The fans cheer as the roosters stab each other directly in the flesh until one of the opponents is dead. If the losing rooster survives but is too weak to heal, it is thrown in the dustbin and left to die. Because of the cruelty and abuse directed at the animal, California criminalizes cockfighting.

PEN 597b makes it illegal to do the following:

  • Attend a cockfighting match
  • Permit, facilitate, or plan a cockfighting game for amusement or profit
  • Own, rear, or train a cock for a fighting match
  • Produce, buy, sell or distribute gaffs

The police will invade your premises even without a warrant if it is alleged or known that cockfighting activities are happening on your property. So, regardless of whether the police follow legal procedures during arrest, the court will admit the charges against you if you are the rooster owner, organizer, or spectator.

The DA can file charges for maliciously causing physical injuries, injuries, maiming, or killing a rooster. When it is your first time to face charges for organizing a cockfighting event on your property, a conviction will result in the following misdemeanor penalties:

  • At most, $10,000 court fines
  • Jail incarceration for at most 12 months

The offense is a wobbler when it is your second or subsequent. If the preferred charge by the prosecutor is a misdemeanor, a sentence will result in a court-imposed monetary fine not exceeding $20,000 or, at most, twelve months of jail incarceration.

If you have multiple priors on your record, the offense is filed as a felony. A sentence for the felony offense is punishable by:

  • Court fine amounting to $25,000
  • No more than thirty-six months of state prison incarceration

Cockfighting is filed as a misdemeanor if you are arrested for being a spectator in a cockfighting match. You risk parting with at most five thousand dollars in court fines and six months of jail incarceration when convicted.

When an arrest stems from possession of cockfighting equipment like gaffs, slashers, or razors, you will face misdemeanor charges whose sentence attracts $10,000 in court fines or twelve months of jail incarceration. Additionally, you will forfeit the equipment to the law enforcement officers.

Lastly, you will be charged for rearing, training, or possessing a fighting rooster. The punishment for this offense if you are a first-time offender is $10,000 in court fines or a one-year jail sentence. For a subsequent offender, the fine imposed by the court does not exceed $25,000. Again, the court can sentence you to twelve months in jail.

  1. Dog Fighting

Another form of animal cruelty the law prohibits is dogfighting, defined under PEN 597.5. Per the statute, it is a crime to own, have, maintain, or train a dog for a dogfighting match. Besides, it is a crime to be a spectator or present in a place where a dogfighting match is happening.

You will face criminal penalties for PEN 597.5 violations when you engage in the following conduct:

  • Possess, train, keep or own a dog for a dogfighting exhibition
  • Make any dog inflict physical injuries on another or cause dogs to inflict wounds on each other
  • Allowing a dogfighting event or two dogs to injure each other on your premises or aiding a dogfighting match to be conducted on your premises
  • Willfully being present at a dog fight or a place being prepped to host a dogfighting match

You will be guilty of a PEN 597.5 violation for training a dog intending to participate in a dog fight, even if the dog does not participate in the match. The prosecutor focuses on demonstrating your intent.

Furthermore, you do not need to be the dog's owner to face charges for violating this subsection of PEN 597.

Another crucial element the prosecutor must demonstrate is that you caused the dogs to fight or injure each other for your amusement or monetary gain. Not every case where a dog injures another or two dogs fights amounts to dog fighting. A PEN 597.5 violation occurs if you cause the dogs to engage in the above action for entertainment or profit.

Also, under the law, you will be guilty of allowing another person to have, own, or train a dog for a fighting match under a premise you own or manage. Additionally, encouraging or abetting someone to possess or prepare a dog for a fighting match while you know the conduct is illegal can result in a conviction.

You can face criminal penalties for dogfighting for merely allowing a match to be hosted on your property or a premise you are charged to manage.

Finally, a prosecutor will convict you if they can show you willfully showed up in a dog fight or were deliberately present where dogfighting preparations were happening, intending to be present in the match.

Prosecutors can file felony or misdemeanor charges against you. You would face misdemeanor charges if you were present at the premises where dogfighting preparations were going on or as a spectator. When sentenced, you risk summary probation, jail incarceration not exceeding twelve months, or a monetary court-imposed fine of at most $5,000.

When you engage in any other conduct defined under PEN 597.5 apart from being a spectator or present in a venue where dogfighting preparations are happening, you will face felony penalties, including:

  • Formal probation
  • 16, 24, or 36 months of jail incarceration
  • Court fines amounting to $50,000

Also, a conviction for dogfighting can result in asset forfeiture. Whether your sentence is for a felony or misdemeanor, the court can initiate a seizure of your property if they can show the assets are proceeds of dogfighting activities. Some of the assets that the court will seize include:

  • Real property
  • Personal property
  • All gains or equipment obtained or used in dogfighting


  1. Leaving or Confining an Animal in a Car Unattended

Confining your pet or any other animal in a car unattended to the extent the animal’s safety or health is endangered can appear to be a minor issue. Nonetheless, PEN 597.7 considers this behavior animal abuse and can result in charges and a conviction.

Conditions that are considered to endanger the life of the animal include:

  • Extreme hot or cold weather
  • Inadequate ventilation
  • Deprivation of food and water
  • Any other adverse condition that can lead to disability, suffering, or death of the confined animal

The prosecutor will charge you with an infraction when you confine your animal in a car unattended, but it does not sustain a great bodily injury (GBI). A conviction for the count will result in no more than $100 in court fines.

Nevertheless, if the animal sustains GBIs, you will face a misdemeanor charge, whose conviction attracts the following criminal penalties:

  • Jail sentence for at most six months
  • Court-impose fines of no more than $500

Only a misdemeanor conviction for a PEN 597.7 violation attracts a jail sentence. However, it is not mandatory to serve the jail term because the judge can impose summary probation in place of incarceration. However, during the probationary period, you must adhere to the strict probation conditions imposed by the court.

  1. Animal Poisoning

According to PEN 596, it is a misdemeanor offense to poison another person’s animal maliciously. You risk spending half a year in jail or, at most, $1,000 in court fines when convicted for this offense.

  1. Transporting an Animal in a Cruel Fashion

PEN 597 makes it a misdemeanor to transport or move an animal cruelly or brutally, knowing it will be subjected to unnecessary cruelty.

You will face a maximum of half a year in jail or $1,000 in court-imposed fines plus restitution when convicted of the offense.

  1. Animal Confinement

Per PEN 596t, when you confine an animal on a rope or leash, you must provide it with water, food, and shelter. Additionally, the leash or chain on the animal must not cause injuries or allow it to be entangled. If you violate these conditions, you will face misdemeanor charges punishable by half a year in jail or a fine of $1,000.

It would help if you understood that PEN 597t conditions do not apply to animals confined in a car or those within the owner's immediate control.

The circumstances of your case determine whether the prosecutor will charge you with any of these violations. They can file charges for animal abuse and cruelty or any statutes protecting animals from cruelty.

Other Elements of Animal Cruelty or Abuse, the Prosecutor Must Prove

Animal abuse entails many aspects that could impede the animal’s health and well-being. It is not limited to the various forms of abuse defined under PEN 597 subsections. A prosecutor can earn a conviction if they can prove the following:

The Animal Suffered Visible Trauma

Your animal's body can tell a tale of its health and wellness. It indicates it is wounded if it has open scabs and wounds. An animal with congested eyes or in physical distress shows suffering.

Poor Sanitation

The health of an animal depends highly on its environment. Your animal must live in a clean environment with proper sanitation. You risk conviction if the prosecutor can demonstrate that your animal lives in a shelter filled with feces and garbage.

Animal Hoarding

You are allowed to keep the number of animals you want. Nonetheless, if the number compromises the health and safety of these animals because of overcrowding, you risk being charged with a PEN 597 violation because of animal hoarding.

Abnormal Animal Conduct

Generally, animals are confident and friendly around their owners. Therefore, it will be abnormal for your animal to exude fear around you. This can arouse suspicion of animal cruelty among the relevant authorities. If investigations show the dog was abused, the animal's behavior will be used as evidence in your prosecution.

Prosecutors can use these aspects as reasons for filing animal abuse charges or as evidence to support the charges.

PEN 597 Violation Penalties

Animal neglect or brutality under PC 597 is a wobbler. If the preferred charge against you is a misdemeanor, a sentence will result in no more than twelve months in jail or a court fine of at most $20,000.

On the other hand, a felony sentence is punishable by at most thirty-six months in jail or a maximum of $20,000 in court fines.

Additionally, the court can order the animal to be permanently taken away from you. Also, if the animal belongs to the category of endangered species, you will face aggravated penalties.

A sentence for the offense will affect your immigration status if you are a non-citizen. If you are convicted of an aggravated felony, you will be deemed deportable or inadmissible. Therefore, when hiring a defense attorney, look for one with knowledge of immigration laws to avoid immigration consequences upon sentencing.

Fighting Animal Abuse Charges

Your attorney at Los Angeles Criminal Attorney can apply various defense strategies to defeat the charges or obtain a charge reduction for a more lenient sentence. The approach to be used depends on your case’s unique circumstances. The common defenses for animal cruelty charges are:

  1. You were Acting in Self Defense

Self-defense statutes allow you to use reasonable force to repel danger when you are under attack. The attack could be by a person or an animal. Therefore, when faced with charges of abuse or brutality towards an animal, you can argue that you or someone else was at risk of an imminent attack by the animal and you wounded or killed the animal defending yourself or the other party. However, the court will uphold the defense if the force you used to kill or physically injure the animal is reasonable.

  1. You Injured the Animal Accidentally

The prosecutor must prove you maliciously wounded or injured the animal to gain a conviction. If your attorney can confirm the death or injuries on the animal were accidental, the case will lack the malicious element. When there is no intent to cause harm or death, your actions will be considered accidental, and you will not be guilty of animal cruelty.

  1. You are not Responsible for the Animal

Even if it is clear that the animal is maimed, wounded, or dead, you can assert that you are not charged with caring for the animal and, therefore, not liable for any abuse or cruelty towards it.

  1. Lack of Earnings

You are not guilty of animal neglect if you neglect it due to a lack of resources or funds to provide necessities. Your attorney at Los Angeles Criminal Attorney can argue that you sustained an injury or have a medical condition that prevented you from working and caring for the animal. Also, you can say you lost your job, leaving you unable to provide necessities for the animal.

  1. Lack of Unanimity Instructions from the Judge

Animal abuse counts can stem from a continuing matter where you have neglected an animal for a long time, and the current charges result from your continued abuse. Alternatively, you can face the count because of a one-time event of animal abuse.

If neglect or abuse has been an issue happening over time, the judge will order the jury to point out one abuse instant. You will face penalties for PEN 597 violation when convicted over the instance. However, when the jury cannot point out an incident of animal abuse from the alleged continuous abuse, then your defense attorney can use the failure of the court to give unanimity instructions as a defense. 

When your charges are based on a single animal abuse incident, the court should instruct the jury to agree on a single act that violates the law unanimously. If the court does not give these instructions to the jury, you can use this as your defense to defeat animal abuse charges.

Reporting Animal Abuse

The law requires you to call 9-1-1, the local police department, or the animal control authority. The agency charged with animal protection investigates alleged or known animal neglect or cruelty incidents.

It is worth noting that these cases must be reported within a specific timeframe. A misdemeanor animal abuse offense must be reported within 12 months from the date the incident was witnessed. If the period lapses without reporting, the prosecutor cannot file charges against the alleged perpetrator.

The timeline for reporting felony PEN 597 violations is 36 months from the date of the cruelty or abuse. If three years pass without reporting, the court will not take any legal action against the alleged perpetrator.

Find an Experienced Defense Attorney Near Me

Abuse or cruelty to animals is a severe offense that attracts extensive criminal penalties. If you or a loved one faces these charges, do not hesitate to speak to the Los Angeles Criminal Attorney. Our attorneys appreciate the need to care for and protect the well-being of animals. However, we recognize that you could be wrongfully charged and sentenced for animal abuse, which is why we are here to defend you against the charges. Call us today at 424-333-0943 to discuss your case and develop effective defenses.