Animal Law

Animal Cruelty Laws in Indiana

By E.A. Gjelten, Author and Editor
Indiana outlaws different kinds of animal abuse and neglect, including animal cruelty as a form of domestic violence.

Cruelty to animals is illegal in Indiana, as it is across the country. The state's animal protection laws are less detailed than in many other parts of the country, but 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.

Abandoning or Neglecting Animals

It’s a misdemeanor in Indiana to abandon or neglect an animal in your custody. Animal neglect includes:

  • endangering an animal’s health by not giving it food and water
  • not providing care or seeking veterinary treatment for a dog or cat that’s seriously injured or sick
  • leaving a dog or cat outside without protection from extreme heat or cold, and
  • restraining an animal in a way that seriously endangers its life or health, or with a chain or tether that’s too short, too heavy, or causes choking.

The crime bumps up to a felony if the person had a previous conviction for animal abuse. (Ind. Code §§ 35-46-3-0.5, 35-46-3-7.)

Cruelty to Animals

Some forms of animal cruelty are a felony in Indiana, including:

  • intentionally torturing or mutilating an animal, and
  • intentionally killing someone else’s animal without consent, unless it was necessary to prevent injury, serious property damage, or prolonged suffering by an injured animal.

Simply beating an animal is a misdemeanor, unless the person had a previous conviction for animal cruelty or it was a form of domestic violence (see below). (Ind. Code § 35-46-3-12.)

Animal Cruelty as Domestic Violence

Indiana makes it a felony to intentionally kill or beat an animal in order to threaten, intimidate, harass, coerce, or terrorize a family or household member. (Ind. Code §§ 35-46-3-12(b)(2), 35-46-3-12.5.)

Exceptions to Animal Cruelty

Indiana exempts several kinds of legal activity from its animal cruelty laws, including:

  • research at a facility that’s registered with the federal government
  • fishing, hunting, or trapping,
  • destroying an animal that’s endangering other domestic animals or damaging property
  • humane euthanasia, and
  • standard veterinary or farm management practices.

(Ind. Code § 35-46-3-5.)

Rescuing Animals From Cars

In 2017, Indiana joined the handful of states that allow Good Samaritans to break into locked cars to rescue pets in distress. In order to be protected from criminal charges for their actions, rescuers must:

  • believe (with reason) that a pet is in immediate danger of physical harm and that breaking into the car is the only way to get the animal out
  • call 911 or contact other authorities (such as police or animal control) before taking action
  • use the minimum amount of force needed to remove the animal from the car, and
  • stay with the animal until an officer or emergency responder arrives.

However, even if Good Samaritans (other than officers or vets) follow these steps, they could be liable to the car’s owner for half of the repair costs. And if the animal bites or otherwise hurts the rescuer during the process, the owner won’t be liable for the injuries. (Ind. Code §§ 34-30-30-3, 34-30-30-4.)

Organized Animal Fighting

Participation in organized animal fighting is considered animal cruelty in Indiana, but the crime can be a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the level of involvement and previous convictions. (Ind. Code §§ 34-46-3-8—34-46-3-10.)

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 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?
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