Cruelty to animals is illegal in Illinois, as it is across the country. But the laws on animal abuse in Illinois are particularly extensive and detailed, covering a wide range of specific behavior, situations, and types of animals—from service and police dogs to animals used in entertainment. Below, we’ve summarized the most important state laws that pet owners and animal lovers should know about.
In Illinois, it’s a crime to abuse animals in any way, including:
- beating, tormenting, starving, or overworking any domestic or wild animal
- abandoning an animal where it could become injured or hungry, suffer from exposure, or end up under the charge of animal control; and
- leaving pet dogs or cats for a long period of time under conditions that expose them to extreme heat or cold and results in death, injury, hypothermia, hyperthermia, or frostbite.
Animal abuse is a generally a misdemeanor. However, it bumps up to a felony if:
- the person had a previous conviction for the same crime
- the cruelty was intentional and led to the animal’s serious injury or death
- the animal was tortured, or
- anyone other than a licensed vet intentionally killed a pet with carbon monoxide.
(510 Ill. Comp. Stats. §§ 70/3.01, 70/3.02, 70/3.03.)
Illinois spells out the duties of anyone who owns an animal. An owner must provide:
- enough good food and water
- proper shelter and protection from the weather, and
- humane care, including veterinary care when it’s needed to prevent suffering.
Owners who don’t meet these responsibilities may be charged with a misdemeanor (or a felony for subsequent convictions). (510 Ill. Comp. Stats. § 70/3(a), (d).)
Leaving Animals in Hot or Cold Cars
It’s a misdemeanor in Illinois to leave an animal in a vehicle under conditions that are dangerous because of extreme heat or cold, without providing proper ventilation or other protection. If law enforcement, animal control officers, or investigators from the Illinois Department of Agriculture have probable cause to believe that this has happened, they may use any reasonable method to get into the car in order to protect the animal, after trying to contact the owner. (510 Ill. Comp. Stats. § 70/7.1.)
Tethering Dogs Outdoors
The state also makes it a misdemeanor to leave a dog tethered outside under certain dangerous conditions, including when:
- the dog could get entangled with other tethered dogs
- the tether is too short or heavy, or
- the collar is poorly fitted or painful.
(510 Ill. Comp. Stats. §§ 70/3.01(b), (c).)
Animal “Snuff” Films
Illinois also makes it a crime to show animal cruelty for entertainment or profit in films, videos, images (including electronic), or sound recordings. It’s also illegal to market or possess these images or recordings in the state. (510 Ill. Comp. Stats. §§ 70/3.03-1.)
Impounding Abused Animals
After an investigation reveals that there has been some form of animal abuse, the person responsible for the mistreatment should receive a notice, along with an explanation of what that person has to do to correct the situation. Authorities may impound the animal if the person doesn’t fix the situation before the deadline. Impounding is required if it’s too late for any corrective action by the abuser, given the animal’s condition. The abuser may request a hearing to appeal the impoundment. (510 Ill. Comp. Stats. §§ 70/11, 70/12.)
Exceptions to Animal Cruelty Laws
Animal cruelty doesn’t include certain allowed practices, including:
- hunting, fishing, or trapping
- ear cropping, declawing, defanging, tail docking, and spaying; and
- euthanasia done for a legitimate reason.
(510 Ill. Comp. Stats. § 70/3.03.)
Organized Dog Fights or Cockfighting
Illinois criminalizes animal fights (or killing animals intentionally) for entertainment, sport, or betting. Any kind of intentional participation is a felony, including breeding the animals or simply being present at a fight. (720 Ill. Comp. Stats. 5/48-1, 510 Ill. Comp. Stats. § 70/4.01.)
It’s illegal in Illinois to poison any domestic animal on purpose. (510 Ill. Comp. Stats. § 70/6.)
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 the 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?
- Animal control officers came in my yard and took my dog after a neighbor complained about so-called abuse. Are they allowed to do that without a warrant?