Animal Law

Animal Cruelty Laws in Washington

By E.A. Gjelten, Author and Editor
It’s illegal in Washington to abuse, abandon, or neglect animals.

Cruelty to animals is illegal in Washington, as it is across the country. There are different levels of punishment, depending on the seriousness of the abuse. Below, we’ve summarized the most important laws in the state that pet owners and animal lovers should know about.

Animal Abuse and Neglect

Some forms of animal abuse are a misdemeanor in Washington, including:

  • inflicting unnecessary pain or suffering through criminal negligence
  • abandonment
  • poisoning, and
  • creating unnecessary or unjustified pain through neglect—failing to provide needed shelter, sanitation, space, rest, or medical attention, whether intentionally, recklessly, or through criminal negligence.

Washington pet owners can defend themselves against misdemeanor neglect charges by proving that they couldn’t provide for their animals because of financial distress. (Wash. Rev. Code §§ 16.52.190, 16.52.207.)

It’s also a misdemeanor to kill or injure someone else’s pet, whether intentionally or recklessly. (Wash. Rev. Code § 9.08.070.)

Felony Animal Cruelty

Animal cruelty may be a felony in certain circumstances, including when someone:

  • intentionally kills, injures, or inflicts pain on an animal in a way that either shows extreme indifference to life or results in excessive suffering; or
  • starves, dehydrates, or suffocates an animal through criminal negligence, and the animal either dies or suffers for a long time.

(Wash. Rev. Code § 62.52.207.)

In addition to the criminal penalties and civil fines for animal cruelty, the judge may prohibit the convicted person from owning or even living with animals for a certain period of time. (Wash. Rev. Code §§ 62.52.200(4).)

Leaving Pets in Hot or Cold Cars

You can get a ticket in Washington if you leave an animal alone in a motor vehicle or other enclosed space under conditions that could result in harm or death because of excessive heat or cold, lack of water, or not enough ventilation. You could also be charged with a crime if the circumstances meet the definition of animal cruelty.

Law enforcement or animal control officers may take any reasonable actions to remove animals from cars or other spaces—and won’t be liable for any resulting property damage—if:

  • they believe that the animals are likely to suffer from the conditions or already are suffering, and
  • there’s no one in the vicinity with access to the car.

(Wash. Rev. Code §§ 16.52.340.)

Tethering Dogs Outside

In 2017, Washington passed a law that makes it a civil infraction when owners leave their dogs tied up or tethered outside in unsafe or unsanitary conditions, including:

  • in a way that’s painful, injures the dog, or could lead to it getting tangled up frequently
  • in a way that doesn’t allow the dog to sit, lie down, stand comfortably, and move freely (within the range of the tether)
  • without access to clean water and shelter that’s safe, clean, and protects the dog from the weather
  • with anything other than a properly fitted buckle collar or harness that allows room for normal breathing and swallowing, and
  • for such a long time that it’s reckless.

Dogs shouldn't be tethered at all if they're sick, injured, in late stages of pregnancy, or less than six months old. A first offense will result only in a warning that requires the owner to correct the problem. After that, any further violations will lead to fines. (Wash. Rev. Code §§ 16.52.0001, 16.52.011(l), (s).)

Exceptions to Animal Cruelty Laws

Several kinds of activities are exempt from Washington’s animal cruelty laws, including:

  • scientific research that’s properly conducted in an academic setting or registered research facility
  • humane euthanasia
  • animal husbandry and commercial slaughtering, or
  • rodent control.

(Wash. Rev. Code §§ 16.52.180, 16.52.180, 16.52.190, 16.52.205(6).)

Organized Animal Fighting

It’s a felony in Washington to participate in organized animal fighting in any way, including watching a fight. (Wash. Rev. Code § 16.52.117.)

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?
  • 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?
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