Animal neglect and cruelty: federal and state laws

Posted at 5:38 PM, Feb 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-14 11:36:33-05

President Donald Trump signed the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act (PACT) into law several months ago. The goal is to crack down on offenders and keep animals safe, primarily people involved in "animal crushing" fetish videos and multi-state criminal rings involving animals.

Under the new law, a person can be changed with a federal felony if they’re found torturing animals. This includes crushing, burning, drowning, suffocating, and impaling, or if the crime involves 10 or more animals.

CBS News reported in November 2019 that the PACT Act expands the federal Animal Crush Video Prohibition Act, which was passed by Congress in 2010 and made the creation and distribution of animal crushing videos illegal. However, the new act closes a loophole by prohibiting the underlying acts of animal abuse.

But the federal law doesn't apply in many situations, notably in cases of neglect, which are usually prosecuted via existing state laws.

A person can be charged with a state misdemeanor when they’re found neglecting an animal by failing to provide basic needs like adequate food, water, and shelter. If the neglect involves 10 or more animals, the person may be charged with a state felony.

Montana Code defines "cruelty to animals" as follows:

  • (a) overworking, beating, tormenting, torturing, injuring, or killing the animal;
  • (b) carrying or confining the animal in a cruel manner;
  • (c) failing to provide an animal in the person's custody with: food and water of sufficient quantity and quality to sustain the animal's normal health; minimum protection for the animal from adverse weather conditions, with consideration given to the species;in cases of immediate, obvious, serious illness or injury, licensed veterinary or other appropriate medical care;
  • (d) abandoning any helpless animal or abandoning any animal on any highway, railroad, or in any other place where it may suffer injury, hunger, or exposure or become a public charge; or
  • (e) promoting, sponsoring, conducting, or participating in an animal race of more than 2 miles, except a sanctioned endurance race.

Cascade County Attorney Joshua Racki explained, “We work with people before we prosecute them to try and get their animals in good condition. Especially if it's good-hearted people who are just in over their heads."

We also have resources right in our community to help people who need assistance. “If someone has some animals and they are having trouble for whatever reason, it’s usually financially they can’t afford food or whatever, reach out to the community, reach out to the animal shelter," said Racki.

He added, "Prosecution is important but what’s really important is helping animals."

Here are several resources for help:

Great Falls Animal Shelter:
Maclean Animal Adoption Center:
Pet Paw-See: