Cruelty to animals is illegal in Florida, as it is across the country. Florida also makes it a crime to neglect and abandon pets or lock them up without enough food, water, ventilation, and room to move. Below, we’ve summarized the most important state laws that pet owners and animal lovers should know about.
Hurting or Neglecting Pets
Florida’s main animal cruelty law makes it a crime to abuse animals in various ways, including:
- tormenting, unnecessarily mutilating, or killing an animal
- not giving an animal proper food, drink, or shelter, or
- transporting an animal in a cruel and inhumane way.
Generally, animal cruelty is a misdemeanor, but it’s a third degree felony if the action (or failure to act) was intentional and resulted in a cruel death or excessive, repeated, and unnecessary pain or suffering. Anyone guilty of intentionally injuring, mutilating, or killing an animal will have to go to psychological counseling or anger management treatment in addition to paying a fine. Repeat offenses and more serious types of cruelty can lead to jail time. (Fla. Stats. § 828.12.)
The law defines animal cruelty as any action or neglect that causes unnecessary pain or suffering, unless it was “done in the interest of medical science.” (Fla. Stats. § 828.02.)
It’s also a misdemeanor in Florida to abandon pets. This includes:
- leaving a sick or maimed animal to die
- leaving an animal to suffer injury or malnutrition, and
- abandoning an animal without proper care, food, water, protection, or shelter in a street or public place.
(Fla. Stats. § 828.13(2)(c), (3).)
When people confine animals, they must provide:
- enough “good and wholesome” food and water
- a change of air, and
- room to exercise.
A violation of these requirements is a misdemeanor. (Fla. Stats. § 828.13(2)(a), (b).)
Rescuing Pets From Hot Cars
Florida is one of a handful of states that allow Good Samaritans to break into locked cars to rescue pets in distress if they sincerely and reasonably believe that the animals are in immediate danger and that there’s no other way of saving them. Rescuers will be protected from civil lawsuits for damage to the vehicles if they follow certain steps, including:
- immediately calling 911 or law enforcement
- breaking into the car with the minimum amount of force needed to remove the pet, and
- staying with the animal in a safe place nearby until an officer or emergency responder arrives.
(Fla. Stats. § 768.139.)
It’s not illegal in Florida to leave out poison on your own property, but it is a misdemeanor to put poison anywhere else. (Fla. Stats. § 828.08.)
Organized Animal Fights
In Florida, it’s a felony to be involved in any kind of animal fighting or baiting. Illegal participation includes attending or just betting on the fights. However, the law doesn’t apply to using dogs to hunt hogs. (Fla. Stats. § 828.122.)
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 Florida 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 and chews its own skin from the stress. 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 neglecting or abusing my cat because I don’t have the money for expensive vet treatment?
- Animal control officers came in my yard and took my dog after a neighbor complained about so-called abuse. Can they do that without a warrant? How can I get my pet back?
- I was charged with animal cruelty for poisoning my neighbor’s dog. But it wasn’t my fault: The dog got into the rat poison only after digging a hole under my fence. What can I do?