Cruelty to animals is illegal in Alaska, as it is across the U.S. The state’s animal protection laws are less comprehensive than in many other parts of the country. Still, they cover the basic forms of abuse and neglect. Below, we’ve summarized the most important laws that pet owners and animal lovers should know about.
Felony Animal Cruelty
In Alaska, it’s a felony to:
- knowingly make an animal experience severe or prolonged pain or suffering
- intentionally injure or kill a pet or livestock with poison, or
- use a decompression chamber to kill or injure an animal.
(Alaska Stat. § 11.61.140(a)(1), (3), (4).)
Animal Cruelty as a Form of Intimidation
It’s a misdemeanor in Alaska to injure or kill an animal knowingly (other than as felony animal cruelty, described above) in order to intimidate, threaten, or terrorize another person. This crime will be treated as a felony, however, if the defendant had a previous conviction in the past ten years for the same crime or for involvement in animal fighting. (Alaska Stat. § 11.61.140(a)(5), (g).)
People who have a legal duty to care for animals can be charged with animal cruelty if they don’t meet that duty, with criminal negligence, and the animal dies or experiences severe pain or prolonged suffering as a result. The legal minimum standards for animal care include:
- enough food and water
- a healthy and protective environment, and
- reasonable medical care, if it’s available and needed to maintain good health.
Criminal animal neglect is generally a misdemeanor, but it becomes a felony if the defendant had a previous conviction in the past ten years. Convicted defendants may have to give up the mistreated animals and be barred from having any other animals for a period of time. Unlike many states, however, Alaska doesn’t make these restrictions mandatory. (Alaska Stat. §§ 11.61.140(a)(2), (g), 3.55.100.)
Exceptions to Animal Cruelty
Alaska exempts several kinds of legal activity from its animal cruelty laws, including:
- scientific research conducted under accepted standards
- accepted veterinary or animal husbandry practices
- animal training and discipline under accepted standards
- dog mushing or rodeos, and
- hunting, fishing, or trapping.
(Alaska Stat. § 11.61.140(d), (e).)
Organized Animal Fighting
It’s a felony in Alaska to participate in organized animal fighting, from owning or training the animals to promoting or having a financial interest in the fights. The state treats spectators more leniently, however. A first offense for attending a fight is a “violation” (akin to a traffic ticket). A second offense earns spectators a fine of up to $1,000, and any subsequent offenses are misdemeanors. (Alaska Stat. § 11.61.145.)
Speaking With a Lawyer
If you’ve been accused of animal cruelty—or you’re worried about possible charges—it’s a good idea to speak with a criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. An attorney experienced in this area should be able to explain:
- details on relevant state laws
- how local authorities tend to interpret those laws
- ordinances in your local community that may apply to your situation
- how you might recover your pet if authorities have already taken it, and
- any defense you might have to criminal charges.
Other questions you might have for a lawyer include:
- My neighbor keeps his dog chained up outside all day in the hot sun. The animal is clearly suffering. I’ve complained to the police and animal control officials, but no one will take any action. Would it be illegal for me to rescue the dog?
- Could I be charged with animal cruelty if I don’t have the money for expensive vet treatment that my cat needs?
- A neighbor’s dog dug a hole under my fence and got into rat poison in my yard. Now the neighbor is threatening to press charges and/or sue me for poisoning the dog, because I should’ve known it could get in my yard. Can I be liable?