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Animal Cruelty Facts and Stats

What to know about abuse victims and legislative trends

  • Dogfighting and other forms of organized animal cruelty often co-occur with other crimes, including drug trafficking. Photo by Meredith Lee/The HSUS

  • Animal hoarding is often an indicator of people in need of social or mental health services. Photo by Kathy Milani/The HSUS

  • Animal neglect is one form of cruelty and can cause tremendous suffering. Photo by Kathy Milani/The HSUS

The shocking number of animal cruelty cases reported every day is just the tip of the iceberg; most cases are never reported. Unlike violent crimes against people, cases of animal abuse are not compiled by state or federal agencies, making it difficult to calculate just how common they are. However, we can use the information that is available to try to understand and prevent cases of abuse.

Who abuses animals?

Cruelty and neglect cross all social and economic boundaries and media reports suggest that animal abuse is common in both rural and urban areas.

  • Intentional cruelty to animals is strongly correlated with other crimes, including violence against people.[1]
  • Hoarding behavior often victimizes animals. Sufferers of a hoarding disorder may impose severe neglect on animals by housing far more than they are able to adequately take care of. Serious animal neglect (such as hoarding) is often an indicator of people in need of social or mental health services.[2]
  • Surveys suggest that those who intentionally abuse animals are predominantly men under 30, while those involved in animal hoarding are more likely to be women over 60.[3]

Most common victims

The animals whose abuse is most often reported are dogs, cats, horses and livestock. Based on the 1,423 U.S. cruelty cases on pet-abuse.com’s 2011 digest in which species of the victim was specified:

  • 70.1% involved dogs.
  • 20.9% involved cats.
  • 24.1% involved other animals.

Undercover investigations have revealed that animal abuse abounds in the factory farm industry. But because of the weak protections afforded to livestock under state cruelty laws, only the most shocking cases are reported, and few are ever prosecuted. Find out how you can help protect farm animals here.*

Organized cruelty

Dogfighting, cockfighting and other forms of organized animal cruelty go hand in hand with other crimes, and continues in many areas of the United States due to public corruption.

The HSUS’ investigative team combats complacent public officials, and has worked with the FBI on public corruption cases in Tennessee and Virginia. In both instances, law enforcement officers were indicted and convicted.

Correlation with domestic violence

Data on domestic violence and child abuse cases reveal that a staggering number of animals are targeted by those who abuse their children or spouses.

  • There are approximately 70 million pet dogs and 74.1 million pet cats in the U.S. where 20 men and women are assaulted per minute (an average of around 10 million a year).
  • In one survey, 71 percent of domestic violence victims reported that their abuser also targeted pets.[4]
  • In one study of families under investigation for suspected child abuse, researchers found that pet abuse had occurred in 88 percent of the families under supervision for physical abuse of their children[5].

To put a stop to this pattern of violence, the Humane Society Legislative Fund supported the PAWS (Pets and Women’s Safety Act), introduced to Congress in 2015 as H.R. 1258 and S.B. 1559 (Humane Society Legislative Fund, 2015). The PAWS act would give victims of domestic abuse means to escape their abusers while keeping their companion animals safe — many victims remain in abusive households for fear of their pets’ safety.

State legislative trends

The HSUS has long led the push for stronger animal cruelty laws and provides training for law officials to detect and prosecute these crimes. With South Dakota joining the fight in March of 2014, animal cruelty laws now include felony provisions in all 50 states.*

First vs. subsequent offense

Some state laws only allow felony charges if the perpetrator has a previous animal cruelty conviction. Given that only a fraction of animal cruelty acts are ever reported or successfully prosecuted, The HSUS is committed to supporting felony convictions in cases of egregious cruelty regardless of whether the perpetrator has a prior conviction.

  • 46 of 50 states’ felony provisions are first-offense provisions.
  • Four states (Pennsylvania, Ohio, Iowa and Mississippi) have laws that apply felony charges only to subsequent offenses.
  • A majority of anti-cruelty laws are limited to cases involving aggravated cruelty, torture, or cruelty to companion animals.

Improvement is being made in places where it’s needed: Ohio HB 60, known as “Goddard’s Law,” makes cruelty to companion animals a first-offense felony. Goddard’s Law was passed by the state’s senate — it currently awaits Governor John Kasich’s signature.

Changes in federal tracking

On January 1, 2016, the FBI added cruelty to animals as a category in the Uniform Crime Report, a nationwide crime reporting system commonly used in homicide investigations. While only about a third of U.S. communities currently participate in the system, the data generated will help create a clearer picture of animal abuse and guide strategies for intervention and enforcement. Data collection covers four categories: simple/gross neglect, intentional abuse and torture, organized abuse (such as dogfighting and cockfighting) and animal sexual abuse.[12]

Related Reading


  1. Lockwood, R. 2008. “Counting Cruelty: Challenges and Opportunities in Assessing Animal Abuse and Neglect in America.” In International Handbook of Theory and Research on Animal Abuse and Cruelty, edited by Frank R. Ascione.
  2. Lockwood, R. 2002. “Making the Connection Between Animal Cruelty and Abuse and Neglect of Vulnerable Adults.” The Latham Letter 23.
  3. DeViney, E. et al. 1983. “The Care of Pets Within Child Abusing Families.”International Journal for the Study of Animal Problems 4.
  4. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2011. “National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey.
  5. Animal Legal Defense Fund. 2015. “Animal Protection Laws of Iowa.”
  6. Animal Legal Defense Fund. 2015. “Animal Protection Laws of Mississippi.”
  7. Animal Legal Defense Fund. 2015. “Animal Protection Laws of Ohio.”
  8. Animal Legal Defense Fund. 2015. “Animal Protection Laws of Pennsylvania.
  9. FindLaw. “Texas Penal Code § 42.092. Cruelty to Non-livestock Animals.”
  10. SPCA of Texas. “Texas Animal Cruelty Laws.”
  11. Virginia Decoded. “§3.2-6570 Cruelty to animals; penalty.”
  12. State of Idaho Legislature. “Title 25 Animals; Chapter 35 Animal Care.”
  13. Federal Bureau of Investigation. 2016. “Tracking Animal Cruelty: FBI Collecting Data on Crimes Against Animals.”

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