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What is Cruelty to Animals?

Jessica Ellis
Updated May 17, 2024
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Laws that manage cruelty to animals regulations are highly controversial around the globe. While the purpose of most laws is to maintain humane standards for all animals, many animal activists worldwide believe that the vast majority of animal cruelty legislation is vague and poorly enforced. Cruelty to animals is to some degree both a cultural and ethical concept, which may make it difficult to create fair and enforceable laws that protect animals from undue harm.

Many countries and regions, including Australia, Japan, the United States, the European Union, and the United Kingdom, have codified laws that protect animals from inhumane treatment and cruelty. Switzerland is believed to have the strongest and most well-defined cruelty to animals laws in existence. While other countries may do not officially approve of cruelty, there is no specific law against the poor treatment of animals in several regions, including China and Saudi Arabia.

Cruelty to animal statutes can define a variety of treatment and maintenance laws. Some handle the humane care of livestock; since the beginning of the 21st century, many laws have been proposed and created that set limits on the size of cages or stables to prevent overcrowding and discomfort to farm and factory animals. Other livestock rules deal with the treatment of animals in farming situations, including permissible methods of slaughter and regulations about feeding. The force-feeding of geese to create foie gras has come under fire in some areas as cruelty to animals, and has been banned in Argentina, Israel, and California.

Other cruelty to animals laws deal with the proper care and allowed treatment of animals seen as pets. What animals qualify for these laws is largely a cultural issue; dogs are considered exclusively as pets in some regions, whereas in others they may be seen as a food source or a mixture of both. Laws that handle treatment of pets generally forbid physical abuse and ensure that an owner provides food, veterinary care, and proper living conditions for a pet.

Some animal cruelty laws limit or regulate the use of animals in entertainment ventures, such as for movies or animal sports. These laws seek to prevent abusive training methods and unacceptable living conditions for circus and menagerie animals, racing dogs and horses, zoo animals, and animals that are used in film productions. These laws may also ban animal fighting sports, such as dog or cock fighting. These laws are far from universal, and many countries, such as those that maintain bullfighting industries, may not consider sport killing of animals as cruelty.

Many regions have few resources to devote to the enforcement of cruelty to animals laws. Often, activist groups such as the American Humane Society and Canada's Animal Legal Defense Fund remain the watchdogs of the industry. These organizations try to educate the public and expose cases of animal cruelty.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Jessica Ellis
By Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis brings a unique perspective to her work as a writer for WiseGeek. While passionate about drama and film, Jessica enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics, creating content that is both informative and engaging for readers.
Discussion Comments
By bythewell — On Jan 12, 2014

@umbra21 - I think that might be true of a lot of situations, but there are also plenty where people are simply cruel or lazy or ignorant and it leads to animal suffering, even if they belong to a rich family.

Centers that offer pet adoption often have too many designer dogs because their former owners thought they would make a good accessory and didn't realize how much care they would need.

By umbra21 — On Jan 12, 2014

@indigomoth - Those kinds of situations make me sad as well, but honestly the best thing people can do for those animals is to try and alleviate the poverty facing the people. It's the same thing all over the world. The animals' plight in general will improve when the people have enough security to start taking care of them, and exploitation is no longer a matter of necessity.

I think a lot of animal rights groups miss the point there, when they pump money into trying to save animals when the solution to the problem is to save the people first. That's the best way, in the long run, to prevent cruelty to animals.

By indigomoth — On Jan 11, 2014

One of the problems with cruelty to animals comes along with religious prohibitions as well. When I was living in West Africa I would often see donkeys that had been left for dead on the side of the road, which would be humanely put down in they were in the USA.

But there was a religious rule there about killing an animal if you weren't going to use it for food. It's actually a good rule, in general, because it means people don't hunt for sport, or condone killing for fun.

But, unfortunately, since there is also a religious rule about not eating donkey, the donkeys would just be left to die slowly once they were past their usefulness. The same thing would happen with dogs and cats and it could be really heart-breaking.

Of course, there was no one to report cruelty to animals to in a country like that.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis...
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