Cruelty to animals is illegal in Vermont, as it is across the country. The state’s animal protection laws cover a range of behavior, from selling pets by the highway to bestiality. Below, we’ve summarized the most important laws that pet owners and animal lovers should know about.
Misdemeanor Animal Cruelty and Neglect
In Vermont, animal cruelty includes various forms of mistreatment, including:
- torturing or poisoning an animal
- beating or mutilating an animal cruelly
- abandoning an animal—even when it’s left at or near a shelter, if no arrangements were made for the animal’s care
- intentionally killing or trying to kill someone else’s animal, and
- neglecting an animal in your custody by not giving it enough food, water, shelter, rest, sanitation, or necessary medical attention.
(Vt. Stat. tit. 13, § 352.)
State law spells out shelter requirements for dogs and cats when it’s their primary living space. Those standards include protection from the elements, cleanliness, and minimum space depending on the animal’s size. (Vt. Stat. tit. 13, § 365.)
Simple animal cruelty is generally treated as a misdemeanor, but officers may choose to issue a civil citation to first offenders. (Vt. Stat. tit. 13, § 353(a)(4), (5).)
Aggravated Animal Cruelty
It’s a felony in the state to commit aggravated animal cruelty by:
- intentionally causing extreme pain or suffering that leads to an animal’s death
- torturing, mutilating, or cruelly beating an animal intentionally, maliciously, and without good reason; or
- intentionally injuring or killing a working law enforcement animal.
(Vt. Stat. tit. 13, § 352a, 353(a)(2).)
Tethering Dogs Outside
Vermont also makes it a crime to tether or restrain an animal in a way that’s harmful to its welfare. Whenever dogs are primarily kept outdoors on a tether, the tether must:
- not cause discomfort because of its weight
- allow access to shelter and a certain amount of free movement, depending on the dog’s size
- use a swivel or other device to prevent twisting, and
- be attached to a properly fitted harness or collar (not a choke collar).
As with other forms of simple animal cruelty, anyone who doesn’t meet these tethering requirements could be charged with a misdemeanor (or a civil infraction for first offenses, at the officer’s discretion). (Vt. Stat. tit. 13, §§ 352(3), 353(a)(4), 365(f).)
Rescuing Animals From Cars
It’s a misdemeanor in Vermont to leave an animal unattended in a motor vehicle in a way that would endanger the creature’s health or safety. The state protects bystanders from civil liability for damages if they break into cars to rescue pets in distress, as long as they:
- sincerely and reasonably believe that an animal is in immediate danger of harm
- determine that breaking into the locked car is the only way to get the animal out
- contact law enforcement, the fire department, or 911 before taking action
- use the minimum amount of force needed to remove the animal from the car
- put a note on the car with information about the animal’s location, and
- stay with the animal in a safe nearby place until emergency responders arrive.
Humane officers or members of fire and rescue services are also allowed to use reasonable force to rescue animals from cars, and they’re protected from both criminal and civil liability when they do so. (Vt. Stat. tit. 13 § 386; tit. 12, § 5784.)
Taking Away Abusers’ Rights to Own Animals
In addition to the criminal penalties for animal cruelty, Vermont courts may (but don’t have to) take away convicted abusers’ ownership rights to any animals in their custody, as well as bar them from having any other animals for a period of time. (Vt. Stat. tit. 13 § 353(b)(1), (2).)
Exceptions to Animal Cruelty
Vermont exempts several kinds of legal activity from its animal cruelty laws, including:
- scientific research that’s governed by accepted standards and subject to review
- accepted veterinary and animal husbandry practices
- regulated hunting and fishing, and
- killing a pet or wolf hybrid that is attacking a person or another domestic animal
(Vt. Stat. tit. 13, § 351b.)
Organized Animal Fighting
It’s a felony in Vermont to participate in organized animal fighting in any way, from owning or training the animals to watching or betting on a fight. (Vt. Stat. tit. 13, §§ 352(5), (6), 353(a)(3), 364.)
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?
- I think my neighbor poisoned my dog by putting out tainted meat on the property line between our yards. Can I sue my neighbor for killing the animal?