OLR Research Report

March 6, 2007





By: Joseph R. Holstead, Associate Analyst

You asked for a description of Connecticut's animal cruelty law, including if the law gives a judge a great deal of discretion in deciding animal abuse cases. You also asked if the legislature has considered bills to make spaying and neutering of certain animals mandatory.


Connecticut has several laws that prohibit cruelty to animals, ranging from broad anticruelty prohibitions that make it a crime to overwork or beat an animal to specific laws against particular acts, such as cropping a dog's ears. The penalties for violating the anticruelty laws range from a fine of $50 for cropping a dog's ears to a fine of up to $10,000 and up to ten years in prison for killing a police animal.

Animal cruelty is a criminal act. Judges have the same discretion sentencing as they do with other criminal acts that do not carry mandatory minimum sentences. This includes the discretion to sentence an offender to probation or grant him or her conditional discharge.

The legislature has considered two bills making spaying and neutering mandatory since 1997, according to a search of the General Assembly's “text of bills” electronic database. In 2001, Proposed HB 6361 would have required all animals that people adopt from pounds, shelters, and pet shops to be neutered or spayed. The same requirement was proposed in 2003 (HB 5299) with respect to animals in pounds. Neither bill was fully drafted. Connecticut's animal population control program requires residents to pay a $50 adoption fee, which provides a sterilization voucher and vaccination benefits for any unsterilized dog or cat they adopt from a municipal impound facility. The voucher may be redeemed at a participating veterinarian's office.


Connecticut has a number of laws that prohibit animal cruelty. The Department of Agriculture (DOAg) commissioner, an animal control officer, or any law enforcement officer can prevent any act of animal cruelty. Anyone who interferes with, obstructs, or resists an officer performing his or her duty may be fined up to $50 and imprisoned for up to 30 days (CGS 22-329).


The state's broadest anticruelty law makes it a crime to overwork, beat, kill, torture, or injure an animal; fail to give it proper care; inflict cruelty upon it; deprive it of food or water; expose it to poisons; fail to provide it with protection from the weather; abandon or carry it in a cruel manner; or fight with, harass, or worry it to make it perform. Violators may be fined up to $1,000, imprisoned for up to one year, or both.

The law also makes it an unclassified felony to maliciously and intentionally maim, mutilate, torture, wound, or kill an animal. The penalty is a prison term of up to five years, a fine of up to $5,000, or both. The law exempts a licensed veterinarian following accepted standards of practice and anyone (1) following statutorily approved slaughter methods; (2) performing medical research as an employee, student, or person associated with a hospital, educational institution, or laboratory; (3) following generally accepted agricultural practices; or (4) lawfully taking wildlife (CGS 53-247(a) and (b)).

Lastly, the law subjects anyone who confines or tethers a dog for an unreasonable time to a fine of up to $100 for a first offense, between $100 and $250 for a second offense, and between $250 and $500 for any subsequent offenses (CGS 22-350a).

Animal Fighting

By law, activities relating to promoting, assisting in, or witnessing exhibitions involving animal fights are an unclassified felony. The law imposes a penalty of up to five years in prison, a fine of up to $5,000, or both on anyone who (1) owns, possesses, keeps, or trains an animal engaged in or with intent that it engage in a fighting exhibition or (2) maliciously and intentionally maims, mutilates, tortures, wounds, or kills an animal. It also imposes the same penalty on anyone who permits any such act to take place on premises under his or her control, acts as judge or spectator at an animal fighting event, or bets or wagers on its outcome (CGS 53-247(c)).

Police and Volunteer Canine Search and Rescue Dogs

By law, it is a crime, punishable by a fine of up to $5,000, imprisonment for up to five years, or both, to intentionally injure (1) any animal performing its duties while being supervised by peace officers or (2) any dog that is a member of a volunteer canine search and rescue team performing its duties under the supervision of a person who is an active team member.

The penalty for intentionally killing such an animal is a fine of up to $10,000, imprisonment for up to 10 years, or both. The law provides the same penalty for intentionally killing a dog that is a member of a volunteer canine search and rescue team while the dog is performing its duties under a team member's supervision(CGS 53-247(d) and (e)).

Other Cruelty Laws

A variety of laws prohibit other acts of cruelty and set various penalties for violations. The law prohibits the following:

1. Selling or giving away an animal for work if it is unable to work and leading, riding, or driving such an animal along a public highway except for humane or medical purposes. Violators may be fined up to $200, imprisoned up to six months, or both (CGS 53-248).

2. Failing to keep poultry in a sanitary condition. Violators may be fined up to $100, imprisoned for up to 30 days, or both (CGS 53-249).

3. Selling or giving away artificially colored living fowl or rabbits. Violators may be fined up to $150 (CGS 53-249a).

4. Using animals to solicit donations, as prizes, or to attract business. Violators may be fined up to $100, imprisoned up to 30 days, or both (CGS 53-250).

5. Docking a horse's tail, except by a veterinarian. Violators may be fined up to $300, imprisoned for up to one year, or both (CGS 53-251).

6. Cropping a dog's ears, except by a veterinarian. Violators may be fined up to $50 for the first offense. For subsequent offenses they be fined up to $50, imprisoned for up to 30 days, or both (CGS 22-366).

7. Transporting animals by rail without proper sustenance and rest. Violators may be fined up to $500 (CGS 53-252).


Animal cruelty is a criminal act and judges have the same discretion sentencing as they do with other criminal acts not carrying mandatory minimum sentences. This includes the discretion to sentence an offender to probation or grant him or her conditional discharge (conditional discharge is similar to probation except there is no supervision).

The legislature added an option in 2003 under PA 03-208, which allows the court, as a condition of probation or conditional discharge, to require someone convicted of cruelty to animals to undergo psychiatric or psychological counseling or to participate in any existing animal cruelty prevention and education program available to the defendant (CGS 53a-30). The court may use this condition with people convicted in regular criminal court, children (under age 16) convicted as delinquent, those (age 16 and 17) being granted youthful offender status, and first-time offenders being granted accelerated rehabilitation (CGS 46b-140, 54-76j, and, 54-56e).

The requirement that animal cruelty be prosecuted under criminal law, however, can be somewhat limiting in certain instances. DOAg and the Attorney General's Office have determined that there is a need for a civil statutory process so that those authorized to take custody of an animal that has been maltreated may do so before adjudication of abuse, according to Rich Kehoe, special counsel and legislative liaison for the Attorney General's Office.


The law establishes the procedures animal control officers must use when seizing any neglected or cruelly treated animal (CGS 22-329 and 329a). An officer seizing an animal must petition the Superior Court for appropriate action. The court, after hearing the petition, may order the animal destroyed, returned to its owner, or placed with an appropriate agency or person. Pending the outcome of the hearing, the court can order the animal temporarily placed with an appropriate agency or person. The animal's owner must post a $450 bond to pay for the animal's temporary custody. The owner must pay $15 per day for food, shelter, and care, unless the court finds that the animal was not neglected or cruelly treated. An officer must follow these procedures unless in a veterinarian's opinion the animal is so injured or diseased that it should be destroyed immediately. In such a case the officer may humanely destroy it.

By law, after a hearing, if the court finds that an animal is neglected or cruelly treated, it may vest ownership in (1) any state, municipal, or other public or private agency that is permitted by law to care for such animals or (2) any person the court finds suitable or worthy.


Under the state APCP, a Connecticut resident must pay a $50 fee ($45 goes to APCP, $5 to municipality) when he or she adopts a pet from a pound, which entitles the adopter to a vaccination/sterilization voucher good for 60 days (CGS 22-380f). The voucher provides (1) a one-time sterilization fee of $50 for a male cat, $70 for a female cat, $100 for a male dog, and $120 for a female dog and (2) two pre-surgical vaccinations. Nonresidents may adopt a pound pet for the $5 municipal fee, but are not eligible for program benefits. Pets too young or sick are granted a medical extension by the veterinarian; however, all young animals must be sterilized by six months of age, according to the DOAg.

Program funding comes from an annual surcharge on Connecticut dog licenses ($2 sterilized/$6 unsterilized), the $45 adoption fee, and proceeds from the sale of "Caring for Pets" commemorative license plates and donations, according to DOAg's website:

The law defines a “pound” for the purposes of spaying and neutering as a state or municipal facility where impounded, quarantined, or stray dogs and cats are kept or any veterinary hospital or commercial kennel where a municipality orders such dogs or cats kept (CGS 22-380e).