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Crimes against Animals

Did you know that Wisconsin has an entire chapter in its criminal code devoted to crimes against animals?  Chapter 951 of the Wisconsin Statutes covers crimes against animals and the penalties you face if convicted of one of these crimes.

What’s an Animal?

Believe it or not, the statute specifies what constitutes an “animal.”  Animals include every living warm-blooded creature, reptiles, and amphibians.  The statute excludes humans from this definition.  The statute also explains that Chapter 951 does not controvert any law regulating wild animals under Chapter 169.  It also does not apply to the taking of wild animals.

Mistreatment of Animals

The main crime in this section is titled mistreatment of animals.  Section 951.02 prohibits treating any animal in a cruel manner, regardless of whether the animal belongs to them.  It does not prohibit normal and accepted veterinary practices.  The definition of “cruel” means causing unnecessary and excessive pain or suffering.  It also means causing unjustifiable injury or death.  For this to be a crime, the prosecution must prove that you either intentionally or negligently treated an animal in a cruel manner.

There is a significant difference, however, between an intentional act and a negligent act.  To prove that someone intentionally treated an animal in a cruel manner, the prosecutor must show that the defendant acted with the mental purpose to treat the animal in a cruel manner, or was aware that the conduct was practically certain to cause that result.  To show that the defendant acted negligently in treating the animal in a cruel manner, the defendant’s conduct must amount to criminal negligence.  Criminal negligence is defined as the conduct created a risk of death or great bodily harm, the risk was unreasonable and substantial, and the defendant should have known the conduct created the unreasonable and substantial risk.

Penalties for Mistreating an Animal

Anyone who mistreats an animal is subject to a class C forfeiture not to exceed $500.  However, if you mistreat an animal within 3 years after a humane officer issues an abatement order to you, you are subject to a class A forfeiture not to exceed $10,000.  Depending on the severity of the mistreatment, you may be prosecuted criminally.  The statute does provide that anyone who intentionally or negligently mistreats an animal is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor.  Be aware, however, that the penalties increase if actual harm is caused to the animal.  If the mistreatment results in mutilation, disfigurement or death of an animal, the person is guilty of a Class I felony.

What About Police Animals?

Police animals receive special treatment under Chapter 951.095.   It is prohibited to frighten, intimidate, threaten, abuse or harass police animals.  It is also illegal to strike, shove, kick or otherwise subject the animal to physical contact.  And as may be expected, it is illegal to strike the animal by using a dangerous weapon.  As with any crime, prosecutors must prove specific elements to obtain a conviction.  Let’s use a police dog as an example.  First, the police dog must be used to perform agency functions.  Second, the defendant knew the dog was a police dog.  Third, the defendant acted in one of the prohibited ways mentioned above.  Fourth, the prohibited act caused injury to the police dog.

There are three different penalties you face depending on the facts.  If your actions don’t result in an injury to the police animal, you are guilty of a Class A misdemeanor.  If your actions cause an injury to the animal, then you are guilty of a Class I felony.  Finally, if your actions cause the death of the animal, then you are guilty of a Class H felony.

Instigating Fights Between Animals

Chapter 951.08 prohibits instigating fights between animals.  Specifically, it is illegal to instigate, promote, or participate in the earnings of fights between animals.  A person who maintains or allows a place to be used for this purpose also violates the law.  Finally, it is illegal to own, possess, keep or train an animal for the purpose of fighting other animals.  If convicted as a first offense, the penalty is a Class I felony.  For any subsequent violations, the penalty rises to a Class H felony.  Additionally, a person convicted under this section cannot own, possess, keep or train any animal for a period of 5 years following the conviction.

What if you are a spectator of an animal fight?  Believe it or not, that is also a crime.  If you are a spectator at an animal fight, you are guilty of a Class A misdemeanor.

Providing Basic Care

It should go without saying, but owners and caretakers need to provide basic shelter and care to their animals.  Section 951.14 makes it illegal to not provide proper shelter to animals.  Prosecutors must prove the following elements:

  • The defendant owned or was responsible for confining an animal;
  • The defendant intentionally or negligently failed to supply the animal with proper shelter.

Proper shelter means shelter which is sufficient to maintain the good health of the animal.  The statute also specifies standards for indoor and outdoor shelter.  Just like providing proper shelter, Section 951.13 states that owners and caretakers must provide sufficient food and water for the animals.  The penalties for Sections 951.13 and 951.14 are the same as the penalties under mistreating an animal.

If you or a loved one faces charges for crimes against animals, you need skilled criminal defense attorneys on your side.  The lawyers at Meyer Van Severen, S.C. only handle criminal cases, so call us today for a free initial consultation.