Picture of a dog
Our society has long recognized the need to protect animals through criminal statutes. A few years ago, we saw the national story of Michael Vick, a professional football player who was sentenced to twenty-three months in federal prison for his involvement in a dog fighting operation. You can also see examples of neglect on TV shows that encounter the problem of animal hoarding. These programs show that even with the best intentions of taking care of animals, those we take on too much are actually hurting animals much more than they are helping them. TV coverage and Michael Vick’s conviction brought new attention to the nationwide problem of animal abuse.
In Massachusetts, we have numerous statutes to protect animals that have expanded over time. The statutes cover people who are both out right cruel towards animals and those who neglect them. The most all encompassing statute for animal cruelty is MGL c.272 s.77 and it gives a penalty of up to five years in state prison or two and half years in jail, and/or a fine of up to $2,500 if convicted. If you are convicted of cruelty or neglect of your own animal, you will also forfeit ownership of that animal.
Along with this broad statute against cruelty and neglect, Massachusetts has very specific statutes that govern the treatment of various animals. For example, there are criminal penalties for improper stabling of horses and mules (MGL c. 272 ss.86, 86A, 86B), injuring police dogs and horses (MGL c. 272 s.77A), and selling rabbits and chickens before a certain age (MGL c.272 s.80D). Not only does law enforcement enforce such regulations, but also private groups like the MSPCA investigate claims of animal cruelty and neglect. These investigations can end up in criminal prosecutions. Groups like the MSPCA and the Humane Society also lobby for further protection against animal cruelty. Such upcoming legislation includes a bill that would include animals in abuse prevention orders. For more information on current legislation, visit: http://www.mspca.org/programs/animal-protection-legislation/government-affairs/current-legislation/.