Animal Abuse

Law

Animal abuse occurs when someone mistreats an animal, either through action or inaction, and puts that animal’s safety and well-being at risk as a result. See the sections below for information about:

  • What animal abuse looks like
  • How animal cruelty is related to other types of domestic abuse
  • Legal requirements for reporting animal abuse
  • Protecting animals from abuse (including safety planning, pet safekeeping, and including pets in protective orders)

Choose the Process tab above for steps you can take if you think an animal is being abused.

Please read “Who is this Information Page for?” below to make sure you are on the right page.

LegalAve provides general legal information, not legal advice. Learn more here.

Last Reviewed: May 2017
How to be safe on the internet

It is helpful to know how to look at things on the internet safely. You might not want someone else to see what you are looking at. Or you might want to learn how to delete your internet history, which shows which sites you have looked at. You might also not feel safe looking at family violence information, especially if you are in an abusive relationship and are afraid of your abuser.

For instructions on how to look at things on the internet safely and how to delete your browser history, see the Safe Browsing page.

For more information and tips about how to be safe on the internet, see the following resources.

Web Safe Browsing Tips: Computer, Phone and Tablet
domesticshelters.org
English

Web Protecting Your Email
domesticshelters.org
English

How to be safe on the phone

It is also helpful to know how to be safe when using the phone. Sometimes, when you make calls, the call history can be seen on your phone, or someone can hit “redial” to see who you last called. Or, you might just not want someone else to hear what you are talking about or asking for help about. This is especially true if you are in an abusive relationship. You may be afraid that the abuser will find out who you have been talking to. You might not feel safe calling for help—even in your own home. 

For more information and tips about how to call for help safely, see the following resources.

Web How to Call for Help Safely
Alberta Council of Women's Shelters
English

Web How to Spy Spyware on Your Phone
domesticshelters.org
English

Web Apps Help Survivors' Messages Stay Secret
domesticshelters.org
English
Who is this Information Page for?

This Information Page contains information about the mistreatment of animals, including:

  • what animal abuse is;
  • warning signs of animal abuse;
  • the connections between animal abuse and family violence;
  • ways to keep animals safe; and
  • how to get help for abused animals.

In general, the law discussed on this Information Page is for people who live in Alberta.

You are currently on the Law tab of this Information Page, which has information on what the law says about animal abuse. For information on the process to get help for animals being abused, click on the Process tab above. There is also important information in the Common Questions and Myths tabs above.

The first topic is What the words mean. Please read this section even if you think you already know what the words mean. In order to understand the resources on this page, you will need to understand the legal terms.

What the words mean

These words are not listed alphabetically—they are in the order that makes it easiest to understand the complete legal picture.

If you are looking for a specific term, you can use the Glossary, which is in alphabetical order.

animal abuse 

Animal abuse occurs when someone mistreats an animal, either through action or inaction, and puts that animal’s safety and well-being at risk as a result. Neglect is one form of animal abuse. 

family violence (also called “domestic violence” or “domestic abuse”)

Abuse of power by one person (the “abuser”) toward one or more other people that the abuser has a relationship with. It is a pattern of behaviours within a relationship of intimacy, dependency, and/or trust.

It is most common to think of family abuse happening in romantic relationships (such as dating, living together, and marriage). However, abuse can also occur in other relationships, such as those between parents and children, adult children and their parents (seniors), siblings, extended families, or people and their pets.

abuser

A person who uses their power in a relationship to control and/or harm a person with whom he or she has a relationship. The abuse can be physical, sexual, emotional, or financial. Abusers can be anyone, whether a friend, parent, romantic partner, adult child, or caregiver.

victim 

The person who is controlled and/or hurt by someone else (the “abuser”). Victims can be anyone who is in a relationship with the abuser, such as a child, an elder, or a romantic partner. Victims may also be called “survivors.”

Criminal Code of Canada 

A federal law that lists and describes most crimes and criminal procedures in Canada. Some other crimes are listed in other federal laws (such as the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act), but most crimes are included in the Criminal Code.

For more information about the Criminal Code of Canada, see the following resources.

Web Criminal Code – General FAQs
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English
 
Web Criminal Code
The Canadian Encyclopedia
English

criminal law 

The system of law that involves punishing people who do things that harm people or property, or threaten to harm people or property. Property includes pets.

civil law 

Civil law is the law that deals with disputes between individuals, such as family law and personal injury law. 

safety plan 

A plan that helps you prepare and stay safe in family violence situations. A safety plan can be used in many different situations, whether you are a parent, child, partner, elder, or pet owner. 

shelter 

A safe place where victims of domestic violence can go to live on a temporary basis. 

animal shelter

A place where homeless and unwanted pets are temporarily housed and cared for. Some animal shelters attempt to find homes for homeless animals and assist in finding the owners of lost pets. In some locations, animal shelters have become involved in providing pet safekeeping programs for people leaving family violence situations.

domestic animals

Animals kept by people, and dependent on those people for their basic needs. This includes both farm animals (livestock) and companion animals (pets).

protective order

A court order to protect a victim of violence, abuse, or harassment. Protective orders can be part of the criminal law or the civil law. 

The protective orders available in Alberta include:

  • Emergency Protection Orders under Alberta’s Protection Against Family Violence Act
  • Queen’s Bench Protection Orders under Alberta’s Protection Against Family Violence Act;
  • Emergency Protection Orders under the Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act;
  • restraining orders;
  • peace bonds;
  • bail conditions; and
  • no contact orders.
The laws that may apply to you

As you work through and learn more about animal abuse, you may wish to read the laws (also called “statutes” or “acts”) that apply. The laws included on this Information Page are:

Web Animal Protection Act (and associated Regulations)
Government of Alberta
English

Web Criminal Code
Government of Canada
English

When reading laws, you also need to know about the “regulations” associated with those laws. Each of the links above takes you to a page that lists the laws as well as the regulations that go with them. For more information on laws and regulations, see the Our Legal System Information Page.

What is animal abuse?

Animal abuse occurs when someone mistreats an animal, either through action or inaction, and puts that animal’s safety and well-being at risk as a result.

A person may abuse an animal by failing to provide for its basic needs. This may happen through neglect or by refusing to care for the animal. Animals must be provided with:

  • enough food and water;
  • proper care (including any required veterinary care) when wounded or ill;
  • protection from heat or cold that could injure the animal; and
  • proper shelter, including enough air and space for the animal to move around.

Severe neglect is often seen in situations of “animal hoarding.” This is when a person collects a large number of animals, yet is unable or unwilling to provide the proper care and space for them. 

Animal abuse may also involve cruelty, such as:

  • causing unnecessary pain, suffering, or injury to an animal;
  • abandoning an animal;
  • giving an animal a poison or drug without a good reason;
  • transporting animals unsafely;
  • using an animal to fight other animals; or
  • confining birds and releasing them to be shot for sport.

It is not considered abuse if animals experience some unavoidable distress caused by acceptable practices in raising animals for food, responsible research, pest control, hunting, fishing, or trapping.

Abusing animals is against the law and some actions are considered criminal. As a result, abusing animals can lead to fines, restrictions on animal ownership, and criminal penalties (including time in jail). To learn more about how animal abuse is defined in Alberta’s Animal Protection Act and the Criminal Code of Canada, see the following resources.

Web Animal Protection Laws
Alberta Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
English

Web Provincial legislation
Canadian Federation of Humane Societies
English
Why is it important to know about animal abuse?

Domestic animals, whether farm animals or pets, depend on people to provide their basic needs and care. If someone fails to do this or is purposely cruel to an animal, it is socially unacceptable and may even be a crime. Animals depend on people to stand up for them if they are being mistreated.

There also is a strong connection between animal abuse and human violence. See the following section for more details.

How is animal cruelty connected to other types of abuse?

Research in Canada and the United States has shown various links between animal cruelty and human violence. 

Abuse of animals is one tactic used by abusers in family violence situations. For example:

  • Animal owners are emotionally attached to their pets or livestock. Hurting an animal is one way to hurt the victim. 
  • Threatening to hurt an animal is one way an abuser can gain control over their victim. It is a form of emotional abuse.
Be Aware

Threatening a person that you will kill, poison, or injure an animal is a crime under section 264.1 of the Criminal Code of Canada. It is punishable by time in jail.

Victims tend to stay longer in an abusive relationship because they want to protect their animals. In a 2012 study of Alberta women's shelters, it was found that 59% of abused women with animals were afraid to seek help out of concern for their animals.

People who abuse animals are more likely to also be violent against other people. For example:

  • Violent offenders often have histories of serious and repeated animal cruelty in their childhood and adolescence.
  • When a child is cruel to animals, it is a warning sign that they may be at risk of developing other violent behaviours, and may grow up to be abusive in their adult relationships.
  • Children who witness animal abuse tend to have more aggressive behaviours.
Be Aware

If someone tells you about an animal being abused, it may be a clue that people in the home are being abused as well. You may want to ask them more questions and let them know that there is help.

For more information about the connections between animal abuse and family violence, see the following resources.

PDF The Cruelty Connection: The relationships between animal cruelty, child abuse and domestic violence
Alberta Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
English

Web Animal Abuse
Government of Alberta
English

PDF You Can Help Protect the Safety of People and Animals
Public Legal Education and Information Service of New Brunswick
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

PDF Vous pouvez contribuer à la sécurité des personnes et des animaux
Public Legal Education and Information Service of New Brunswick
French
This resource is from outside Alberta.Learn more here

Web No Four-Legged Family Member Left Behind
domesticshelters.org
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

PDF Domestic Violence Handbook for Police and Crown Prosecutors in Alberta
Government of Alberta
English
See p. 149-150.

Presentation Sheltering Animals & Families Together (SAF-T): Saving lives
National Online Resource Center on Violence Against Women
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

PDF Why Pets Mean So Much: The Human-Animal Bond in the Context of Intimate Partner Violence
National Online Resource Center on Violence Against Women
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.


Web FBI Begins Tracking Animal Abuse
domesticshelters.org
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Web Women and Pets Escaping Violence
Canadian Federation of Humane Societies
English
Signs of animal abuse

There are signs of animal abuse that you may notice in the person who is abusing the animals or in the animal itself.

See the following resources for examples of:

  • behaviours you might see in the abuser; and
  • behaviours you might see in the abused animal.
Be Aware

These are only some of the warning signs of a person who is abusing animals. There may also be warning signs that are not listed anywhere, so it is important to trust your feelings as well. Repeated examples of these behaviours are often signs that the person is being abusive.

Web Signs and Symptoms of Animal Maltreatment
Institute for Human-Animal Connection
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Web What is Animal Cruelty?
Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Web Recognizing Animal Abuse
Canadian Veterinary Medical Association
English

Note that even if an animal does have one of these signs of abuse, it might not be being abused. It may have that symptom because of other reasons. There will also be different signs of abuse depending on the type of animal. Reptiles and birds are likely to display distress quite differently than mammals (such as dogs, cats, rabbits, or cows).

Do I have to report animal abuse?

There is no legal requirement to report animal abuse. But it is important to remember that animals rely on people for their care and protection. For more information about reporting animal abuse, see the Process tab of this Information Page.

You may be concerned that there is also family violence. You may be worried that reporting the animal abuse will make the abuser angry. This could make it even more difficult or dangerous for all of the victims. In this case, you may want to reach out to the people in the situation first. It may be possible to keep all of the victims safe, get them connected to help, or help them make a safety plan.

If any people or animals are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more information about family violence and where to get help, see the following Information Pages.

Ways to protect your animals: Safety planning, boarding options, and protective orders

If you are in an abusive situation, you may want to consider ways to keep your animals safe. This section has information about:

  • safety planning with pets;
  • pet safekeeping if you decide to leave the abusive situation; and
  • including your pet in a protective order.

Safety planning with pets or other animals

It is a good idea to make a safety plan. A safety plan has personalized information about ways you can protect yourself in dangerous situations. Safety plans usually include lists of:

  • safe places to go;
  • contact information for people you trust; and
  • items to take with you if you decide to leave.

If you are worried that the abuser might hurt the animal or pet if you leave, you can include your animal or pet in your safety plan.

Some common things people include when safety planning with pets include:

  • documents that show you own the pet;
  • medication and medical records;
  • food and bedding;
  • a plan for where to keep the pet if you have to go somewhere that does not allow pets.

For more information about safety planning with animals or pets, see the following resources and the Safety Planning & Preparing to Leave Information Page.

Web Taking the Pets
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

Web Women and Pets Escaping Violence
Canadian Federation of Humane Societies
English
See “Safety Planning for Pets.”

PDF You Can Help Protect the Safety of People and Animals
Public Legal Education and Information Service of New Brunswick
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

PDF Vous pouvez contribuer à la sécurité des personnes et des animaux
Public Legal Education and Information Service of New Brunswick
French
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Web No Four-Legged Family Member Left Behind
domesticshelters.org
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Web Safety Planning for Pets of Domestic Violence Victims
Animal Welfare Institute
English

PDF Sheltering Animals & Families Together: Safety Planning
Sheltering Animals & Families Together
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

PDF Why Pets Mean So Much: The Human-Animal Bond in the Context of Intimate Partner Violence
National Online Resource Center on Violence Against Women
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here. See p. 3-4.

For more information about other things to consider in making a safety plan, see the Safety Planning & Preparing to Leave Information Page.

Pet safekeeping

When leaving an abusive situation, you may be able to:

  • take your pet with you;
  • find a family member or friend to care for your animals for awhile; or
  • use a program that offers temporary care for pets while you seek safety and get yourself settled. To learn more about these programs, see the following resources.
Web Pet Safekeeping
Alberta Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
English

Web Community Outreach
Central Alberta Humane Society
English
See “Emergency Boarding Program.”

Web Petsafe Keeping
Calgary Humane Society
English
Be Aware

There are currently no safekeeping options for farm animals.

Including pets in protective orders

A protective order is a court order to keep an abuser away and provide protection to a victim of violence, abuse, or harassment.

There are different types of protective orders. The care and control of pets can be included in the terms of:

  • an Emergency Protection Order; or
  • a Queen’s Bench Protection Order.

To do this, you need to show that protecting the pet will help protect the victims of family violence. For example, a victim may be more likely to leave an abuser sooner if they know that the pet is safe and away from the abuser.

For more detailed information, see the Protective Orders Information Page and the following resources.

PDF Get Out and keep them safe, too! : Including animals in protective orders
Alberta Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
English

Web Including pets in protective orders
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

PDF Alberta Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: Court Protections for Domestic Violence Victims and their Pets
Alberta Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
English
This resource can be a challenge to read. Learn more here.


If pets are not dealt with in a protective order, they will be treated as property under the law. For more information about that, see the Information Page that applies to you:

For general information for things to think about when leaving an abusive relationship with pets, see the following resource.

Web The Battle for Pet Custody: How to best prepare yourself if you expect a dispute with your abuser over pet ownership
domesticshelters.org
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here. Note that there is no “pet custody” in Alberta.

Process

Learn more about what to do in situations of animal abuse, including:

  • What will happen if you call 911
  • How to report animal abuse
  • What to do if you find a lost or abandoned animal

Please read “Who is this Information Page for?” just below to make sure you are on the right page.

LegalAve provides general legal information, not legal advice. Learn more here.

Last Reviewed: May 2017
How to be safe on the internet

It is helpful to know how to look at things on the internet safely. You might not want someone else to see what you are looking at. Or you might want to learn how to delete your internet history, which shows which sites you have looked at. You might also not feel safe looking at family violence information, especially if you are in an abusive relationship and are afraid of your abuser. 

For instructions on how to look at things on the internet safely and how to delete your browser history, see the Safe Browsing page. 

For more information and tips about how to be safe on the internet, see the following resources.

Web Safe Browsing Tips: Computer, Phone and Tablet
domesticshelters.org
English

Web Protecting Your Email
domesticshelters.org
English

How to be safe on the phone

It is also helpful to know how to be safe when using the phone. Sometimes, when you make calls, the call history can be seen on your phone, or someone can hit “redial” to see who you last called. Or, you might just not want someone else to hear what you are talking about or asking for help about. This is especially true if you are in an abusive relationship. You may be afraid that the abuser will find out who you have been talking to. You might not feel safe calling for help—even in your own home. 

For more information and tips about how to call for help safely, see the following resources.

Web How to Call for Help Safely
Alberta Council of Women's Shelters
English

Web How to Spy Spyware on Your Phone
domesticshelters.org
English

Web Apps Help Survivors' Messages Stay Secret
domesticshelters.org
English
Who is this Information Page for?

This Information Page has information about animal abuse. In general, the processes described on this Information Page apply to people who live in Alberta.

Tip

If you are just starting out with this topic, it’s a good idea to begin on the Law tab of this Information Page. There you will find basic information about what the law says, what the words mean, and other issues that will help you understand about animal abuse and its connection to other abusive situations.

You are currently on the Process tab of this Information Page, which has information about processes you can follow to deal with animal abuse. There is also important information in the Common Questions, Myths, and Law tabs above.

Immediate danger: Calling 911

If you, someone else, or an animal is in immediate danger, you should call 911. If you can’t call 911 before the abuse happens, you can call 911 as soon as possible after the abuse happens, or when it is safe to do so.

Be Aware

All phones work for calling 911. This is true even if your phone doesn’t have a service plan, you don’t have any minutes, or you don’t have a SIM card.

When calling 911, there are a few important things you should mention over the phone.

  • The person who answers will ask you whether you want the fire department, the police, or an ambulance. If you don’t know which service you need, explain your situation to the person who answered the phone and they will help.
  • Say your name
  • Give them your address or location
  • Tell them why you need help with as much detail as possible
  • If it is safe to do so, don’t hang up the phone

For more tips about calling 911, see the following resource.

What will happen if you call 911

If you call 911 to report animal abuse or domestic violence, the police will ask you for information about what has happened. The more information you can give the police, the better. 

The more information you can give the police, the better. For example:

  • what exactly is happening;
  • which animals and humans are being threatened or hurt; and
  • whether there are any weapons involved.

The police will then let you know if they can come out to the place where the violence is happening, and how soon. They may have other instructions for you.

When the police come out, they will likely have more questions for you about what happened. The police might decide to charge the abusive person with a crime if they believe that a crime was committed.

For more information about what can happen if you call the police about a domestic violence situation, see the following resources.

Web When They Show Up (Getting the Police Involved)
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

Web Getting the Police Involved
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English
This resource deals specifically with elder abuse, but the information applies to other kinds of family violence as well.

PDF Getting Help from the Police or RCMP
Legal Services Society
Chinese, English, Farsi, French, Punjabi, Spanish
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.
Reporting animal abuse

There is no legal requirement to report animal abuse. But it is important to remember that animals rely on people for their care and protection. Often a call from a concerned person is the only way that Animal Protection Services can get involved.

Anyone who is concerned about an animal in possible distress can report the situation to have it investigated. Even if you are unsure, you can call. The staff can assess the situation and figure out the best response. Call the toll-free Animal Protection Services line: 1-800-455-9003. If you call after hours, there will be recorded instructions about what you can do.

Try to provide as many details about the situation as you can. This can be helpful to the investigating officer. It could be a verbal, written, or visual report. For example:

  • what you saw or heard;
  • when it happened; and/or
  • photographs of the animal or its living situation.

You will be asked for contact information in case they need to ask you any more questions. This information will be kept private. The officer will not tell the owner who made the complaint. If the investigation leads to charges, you may be asked to testify in court. In this case, your identity would become known.

Be Aware

Animal Protection Services peace officers do not have the authority to investigate partner abuse, child abuse, or any other family violence. They also cannot investigate animal offences under the Criminal Code. If they discover such activity during the course of an animal abuse investigation, they will involve the RCMP.

The Animal Protection Act says that no action may be taken against you for making a report or helping with an investigation in good faith.

However, the owner could take action against you if:

  • you knew the report was not true but you were trying to get someone into trouble; or
  • you had no reasonable grounds for your suspicion.

For more information about reporting animal abuse, see the following resources.

Web Investigating Neglect and Abuse
Alberta Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
English

Web Anatomy of an Investigation
Alberta Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
English

What to do if you find a lost or abandoned animal

There are services that can help to:

  • find owners of lost animals; and
  • care for animals if no owner can be found.

You can contact your city, town, or county office for information about their animal services and bylaw department. You could also contact the local SPCA or humane society for information about what you can do. For more information, see the following resource.

Web SPCAs, Humane Societies & Shelters
Alberta Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
English

Provincial Court

Queen's Bench

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