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13.4: Animal Cruelty

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    The link between violence against people and violence against animals is well-documented. Intimate partner violence frequently includes intentional acts of animal cruelty. And many argue that animal violence is a predictor of future violence against people. Further, animal abuse commonly coexists with other intra-familial crimes, including child abuse, elder abuse, and domestic violence.

    According to the National Link Coalition,

    • Pet abuse is one of the four most significant risk factors for someone becoming a domestic violence abuser. (Walton-Moss, Manganello et. al., 2005)
    • 41% of intimate partner violence offenders had histories of animal cruelty. (Febres et al., 2014)
    • 43% of school shooters have histories of animal cruelty. (Verlinden et al., 2000)
    • Animal sexual abuse is often linked with child pornography. (Edwards, 2019)
    • 60% of families under investigation for child abuse, and 88% for physical child abuse, reported animal cruelty. (DeViney, Dickert & Lockwood, 1983)
    • Sexually abused children are five times more likely to abuse animals. (Ascione et al., 2003)
    • In one study, 92% of adult protective services caseworkers reported they encountered animal neglect co-existing with their clients’ inability to care for themselves. (Humane Society of the U.S. & State of Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services, 2003)

    Animal Cruelty

    By definition, animal cruelty requires harm to an animal, and in Alaska, the crime is largely separated between felony and misdemeanor based on the defendant’s culpable mental state. Put another way, the defendant’s purposefulness largely dictates the severity of the crime. Animal (as a legal definition) is broad and includes nearly all living creatures, but excludes human beings, fish, and invertebrates (e.g., worms, insects, crabs, etc.). AS 11.81.900(b)(3).

    Felony animal cruelty – a class C felony – occurs if a person tortures or poisons an animal or is a repeat animal abuser. Torture occurs when a person knowingly inflicts “severe or prolonged pain or suffering” on an animal or kills an animal using a decompression chamber. AS 11.61.140(a)(1); (a)(3). Likewise, if the person intentionally kills a pet or livestock by the use of poison, the crime is elevated to a felony. AS 11.61.140(a)(4). Finally, a prior animal cruelty conviction within the past 10 years (e.g., a recidivist animal abuser) elevates an otherwise misdemeanor animal cruelty to a felony offense. AS 11.61.140(h).

    Misdemeanor animal cruelty occurs if a person undertakes responsibility for the care of an animal, and fails to provide the required care, and as a result, the animal dies. AS 11.61.140(a)(2). This provision criminalizes a person’s omission – their failure to adequately care for the animal. This duty does not arise by accident. The statute requires a person to agree to undertake the responsibility. The responsible party could be the animal’s owner, caretaker, or custodian. But once a person accepts this responsibility, they must provide the animal with the necessary care. For example, if a person agrees to kennel a family’s dog, but fails to feed the dog, and as a result, the dog dies, the person could be guilty of animal cruelty. See Sickel v. State, 363 P.3d 115 (Alaska App. 2015).

    Because of the strong link between crimes of violence and animal abuse, the statute also criminalizes the killing or injuring of an animal with the intent to intimidate, threaten, or terrorize another person. AS 11.61.140(a)(5).

    Finally, the statute criminalizes bestiality – that is, sexual conduct between a person and an animal. The statute prohibits the act of bestiality, the creation of bestiality photographs or videos, and knowingly permitting bestiality to occur on one’s premises. AS 11.61.140(a)(6), (7).

    Regardless of the precise theory of animal cruelty, the code provides a defense to animal cruelty if the conduct conformed to accepted veterinary practices, was part of scientific research governed by accepted standards, constituted the humane destruction of an animal, or conformed with accepted training and discipline standards. AS 11.61.140(c). Likewise, it is a defense if the conduct was necessarily incidental to lawful fishing, hunting, or trapping activities. AS 11.61.140(c)(4). This avoids unnecessary overlap and potential conflicts with established regulations by the Boards of Game and Fisheries.

    Promoting an Exhibition of Fighting Animals

    The code also makes it a felony to intentionally promote, keep, or train fighting animals or knowingly promote or organize a fighting animal exhibition. AS 11.61.145(a), (d)(1). Merely attending a fighting animal exhibition is only a violation (if its the person’s first offense) or misdemeanor (if it is a subsequent offense). AS 11.61.145(a)(3), (d)(2).

    This page titled 13.4: Animal Cruelty is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Rob Henderson via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.