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Animal Cruelty Facts and Statistics

Statistics on the victims and current 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 cruelty cases reported daily on television, on the Internet and in newspapers is only the tip of the iceberg. Most cases are never reported, and most animal suffering goes unrecognized and unabated.

Unlike violent crimes against people, information on reported cases of animal abuse have not been compiled by state and federal agencies, making it difficult to calculate the prevalence or trends in these crimes.

Changes in federal tracking of cruelty cases

In 2014, the FBI announced that it will add cruelty to animals as a category in the agency’s Uniform Crime Report, a nationwide crime-reporting system. 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 will begin in January 2016 and will cover four categories: simple/gross neglect, intentional abuse and torture, organized abuse (such as dogfighting and cockfighting) and animal sexual abuse.

Who abuses animals

Cruelty and neglect cross socio-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.
  • Serious animal neglect (such as seen in cases of animal hoarding) is often an indicator of people in need of social or mental health services (Lockwood, 2002).
  • Surveys suggest that those who intentionally abuse animals are predominantly male and under 30, while those involved in animal hoarding are more likely to be female and over 60 (Lockwood, 2008).

Most common victims

The animals whose abuse is most often reported are dogs, cats, horses and livestock. Based on numbers from pet-abuse.com, of 1,880 cruelty cases reported in the media in 2007:

  • 64.5 percent (1,212) involved dogs (25 percent of these were identified as pit-bull-type breeds)
  • 18 percent (337) involved cats
  • 25 percent (470) 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.

Organized cruelty

Dogfighting, cockfighting and other forms of organized animal cruelty go hand in hand with other crimes.

  • The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency has prosecuted multiple cases where drug cartels were running narcotics through cockfighting and dogfighting operations. In 2014, federal agents found that international drug dealers had congregated at a Kentucky cockfighting pit and even sent a hit man to target a local cockfighter.
  • Dozens of homicides have occurred at cockfights and dogfights. In one instance, a man in California was killed at a cockfight over a disagreement about a $10 bet.
  • Public corruption allows cockfighting to continue in certain counties. The HSUS has worked with the FBI on public corruption cases in Tennessee and Virginia. In both instances, law enforcement officers were indicted and convicted. HSUS investigators even documented uniformed police officers at a cockfighting pit in Kentucky.

Domestic violence, child abuse and animal cruelty

Data on domestic violence and child abuse cases reveal that a staggering number of animals are victimized by abusive parents or partners each year.

  • About 10.2 million women and men are physically assaulted by an intimate partner in the U.S. every year (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2011), and 62 percent of U.S. households have at least one pet.
  • In one survey, 71 percent of domestic violence victims reported that their abuser also targeted their animal (Ascione, 1997).
  • 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 (DeViney, 1983).

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.

  • 50 states currently include felony provisions in their animal cruelty laws.
  • Before 1986, only four states had felony animal cruelty laws: Massachusetts (1804), Oklahoma (1887), Rhode Island (1896) and Michigan (1931).
  • Three states enacted felony laws in the 1980s, 19 in the 1990s and 25 more since 2000 (including the District of Columbia).

First vs. second 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 believes all states should allow felony charges for egregious cruelty regardless of whether the perpetrator has a prior conviction.

  • 43 of the 50 state felony provisions are first-offense provisions.
  • Six have second-offense felonies (Iowa, Mississippi, Ohio and Pennsylvania have felony laws that apply only on the second offense; Texas and Virginia have second-offense felonies, depending on the situation).
  • Idaho has a third-offense felony animal cruelty law.
  • Among the 43 states that have first-offense felony cruelty laws, a majority are limited to cases involving aggravated cruelty, torture, or cruelty to companion animals.

States that have strengthened their felony cruelty laws

Since 2002, at least six states have enacted second- or third-offense felony animal cruelty laws, only to readdress and upgrade them to first-offense laws within a few years:

  • Alaska (third in 2008, first in 2010)
  • Indiana (second in 1998, first in 2002)
  • Kentucky (second in 2003, first in 2007)
  • Nebraska (second 2002, first in 2003)
  • Tennessee (second in 2001 and 2002, first in 2004)
  • Virginia (second in 1999, in 2002)


  • Ascione, F. et al. 1997. “The Abuse of Animals and Domestic Violence: A National Survey of Shelters for Women Who Are Battered.” Society and Animals 5.
  • DeViney, E. et al. 1983. “The Care of Pets Within Child Abusing Families.” International Journal for the Study of Animal Problems 4(4).
  • 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.
  • Lockwood, R. 2002. “Making the Connection Between Animal Cruelty and Abuse and Neglect of Vulnerable Adults.” The Latham Letter 23(1).
  • U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2011. “National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey.”

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