Cruelty to animals is illegal in Georgia, as it is across the country. The state’s animal protection laws include restrictions on pet dealers and animal shelters, as well as mistreatment by the animals’ owners. Below, we’ve summarized the most important laws that pet owners and animal lovers should know about.
Animal Abuse and Neglect
In Georgia, animal cruelty includes:
- causing physical pain, suffering, or death without justification, through either an action or an omission; or
- not giving enough food, water, sanitary conditions, or ventilation to an animal that you own or control.
Animal cruelty is generally a misdemeanor, but it’s a felony if you had a previous conviction for the same crime or you committed aggravated animal cruelty by maliciously killing, torturing, maiming, or poisoning an animal, or depriving it of adequate food, water, and other necessities. (Ga. Code § 16-12-4.)
State law spells out the procedures and requirements when authorities impound mistreated pets, including notice to the owner and an agency hearing on the matter. (Ga. Code §§ 4-11-9.2-4-11-9.6.)
It’s a misdemeanor for anyone to abandon a domestic animal in Georgia. (Ga. Code § 4-11-15.1.)
Exceptions to Animal Protection Laws
Georgia’s animal protection laws don’t apply to scientific experiments conducted at accredited academic or research facilities. The state also exempts a wide range of activities from its prohibitions on animal cruelty, including:
- killing or injuring an animal when necessary to defend against an immediate threat of property damage or injury to another animal or a human
- a landowner’s actions to protect property
- legal hunting, trapping, or fishing
- animal husbandry, and
- food processing.
(Ga. Code §§ 4-11-9.2(e), 16-12-4(g)-(h).)
It’s a felony in Georgia to participate in dogfighting, from owning or training the dogs to betting on a fight. However, a first conviction for being a spectator at a dogfight is a high-level misdemeanor. (Ga. Code § 16-12-37.)
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 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?
- 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?