Exclusively Practicing Criminal Defense for
Two Decades
David Olshansky

Dog Fighting / Animal Abuse and Cruelty

Civilized societies make laws to protect creatures that are least capable of taking care of their own wellbeing. The animal protection laws at federal and state levels are meant to provide shelter to animals. These laws ensure good treatment from pet owners and the larger public in general.

Animal cruelty is prohibited in the state of Illinois, just as it is prohibited elsewhere. It is the intentional act of causing an injury or death of an animal, either through violence or neglect. Using animals for sports such as dog fighting or cock fighting is strictly prohibited in Illinois and punishable by prison time.

State Legislation

Animal abuse and cruelty is covered under 510 ILCS 70/3. The law states that no person may beat, torment, starve, overwork, cruelly treat or otherwise abuse any animal.

The law specifically prohibits pet owners from abandoning any animals in a place where it becomes a public charge or suffers injury, hunger or exposure to weather conditions.

The law also states that the owner of a companion animal, like a cat or dog, must not place the animal in a life-threatening situation for a prolonged period of time. The law defines aggravated cruelty as an act that causes a companion animal to suffer serious injury or even death.


People who are suspected of being guilty of cruelty to animals or neglect may be prosecuted under Class B misdemeanor. The punishment for Class B misdemeanor is prison term of up to six months.

Aggravated cruelty is charged as a Class 4 felony. A second violation under aggravated cruelty can be charged as a Class 3 felony in the courts. A Class 3 felony is punishable by 2 – 5 years while a Class 4 felony is punishable by 1 – 3 years in prison.

Considerations for Animal Cruelty

Animal protection laws are basically divided into two categories, abuse and neglect.

The abuse of animals covers things like beating, torturing, starving or overworking animals. Abandoning animals in places where they can become injured or leaving them for a long period of time in extreme conditions are punishable offenses.

The neglect of animals occurs when the owner or a person in charge of caring for them does not provide proper food, water and shelter to the animals.

In cases where pet owners are suspected of abuse or neglect, their pets may be impounded by the state. The owner is usually served a notice to improve treatment and care of the pet before the animal is impounded. The owner may also be charged fines for not taking proper care of the pet.

The state expressly forbids animal fights and killing of animals for entertainment purposes. Any kind of intentional participation, such as gambling, breeding or being present at such fights is a felony.

Making or distribution of videos or images involving animal cruelty and death is also illegal. Profiting from distribution of such images or recordings can result in fines and prison sentences.

Lastly, poisoning of an animal or causing an animal to die due to carbon monoxide leakage is also illegal and could be tried under a minor misdemeanor.

Examples and Court Cases

A teenager from Illinois who had been accused of slashing a puppy’s throat last year was found guilty of animal torture recently.

Damien Ingram, 17, had reportedly confessed that he tried to slit the throat of the 6-week-old puppy and left him in a ditch. The puppy was later found by a group of kids who took it to the veterinary.

Ingram’s lawyers had argued that the dog had become sick and the defendant wanted to put it out of its misery.

The torture charge is punishable by a prison term of up to 1 year. Ingram has yet to face another charge of aggravated cruelty, which could result in a prison sentence of 1 – 3 years.

According to the Henry County Humane Society, the dog had survived and made a full recovery.

In a different case in January, a woman from Maryville was charged with what prosecutors called one of the worst cases of animal cruelty in county history.

Amy Robertson, 43, faces 21 counts of aggravated animal cruelty due to a number of dead or sick pets that officers found on her property during a welfare check. The officers were making the check after one of her neighbors reported that they had not heard from Robertson in two weeks.

When the officers arrived on her trailer to check up on her, they found a number of animals in hazardous living conditions. The officers also found six dead dogs and three dead cats. They found a number of other pets running loose or almost dead in cages. The trailer-home was in a deplorable condition littered with animal feces and urine.

The officers reported that the home temperature was unregulated, which means that the animals were often kept in freezing conditions. The whole place smelled of decomposing bodies.

According to the officers, Robertson had admitted during an investigation that she left the animals in her home with no intention of coming back.

Possible Legal Defenses

Animal cruelty charges are usually tried under minor misdemeanors, which may give the impression that they are easier to defend. Nonetheless they can be quite tricky due to negative perceptions about the accused and a strong active lobby of animal rights activists.

One possible defense against animal cruelty is self-defense or protection of property. For instance, a person may be able to show the court that the pet dog was attacking other pets, livestock or children and needed to be put down.

A person accused of neglect or leaving the companion pet in adverse living conditions may also be able to argue that the neglect was not intentional. We have seen on several occasions that pet owners are unable to reach their pets to provide food and care only to find themselves charged with animal abuse.

In a charge of abandonment, a pet owner may also go with the defense that they made all reasonable efforts to find their lost pet.