Is Abandoning a Pet a Crime?

Editor’s note: This Care2 favorite was originally posted on September 19, 2015. Enjoy!

Snowflake never saw it coming. She was a 3-month-old Maltese puppy, fluffy, white and adorable. She had a home, her life was just getting started and then she broke her leg.

It should have been a quick fix but her owner, Alsu Ivanchenko, didn’t see it that way. Ivanchenko grabbed Snowflake, put her in a plastic bag and tossed her from the window of her moving car, leaving the pup of just under one pound with a broken leg, a broken skull from the impact after she hit the cement and a broken heart.

Ivanchenko was convicted of felony animal abuse charges for her heartless actions against Snowflake, who was eventually found, rushed to the hospital and is now living in a truly loving home. In court, her former owner turned assailant argued she couldn’t afford to pay for the pet’s veterinary care for the broken leg so she disposed of her problem.

Snowflake’s story is heartbreaking but it certainly isn’t unique. People give up their pets every single day. Maybe they aren’t injured and violently disposed of, which makes it more socially acceptable. People post on social media that “I’m moving and can’t take Waldo” or “Turns out my boyfriend is allergic to Missy.” In many cases the excuse is just a plain “I don’t have time for it anymore.” Just like Ivanchenko, those people are abandoning a pet that was supposed to be their responsibility, but is that a crime?

It depends. Most states have laws against animal cruelty and neglect, making it illegal for people to knowingly cause harm to an animal, but not all states mention abandonment as part of that. In those cases, it’s then perfectly legal to leave an animal behind once it doesn’t fit into the guardian’s lifestyle any longer.

In the state of California, however, “Every person who willfully abandons any animal is guilty of a misdemeanor.” In Florida, anyone who “abandons any animal in a street, road, or public place without providing for the care, sustenance, protection, and shelter of such animal is guilty of a misdemeanor.” Other states like Colorado, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Kansas all have similar protections for pets that could get the person abandoning them up to one year in jail for their first offense but, unfortunately, there are loop holes.

“Companion animals are treated as property in the law,” explains Patricia A. Bolen, an attorney in an article for the Michigan State University College of Law. “If an owner brings an animal directly to a shelter, that owner is transferring title of the animal to the shelter. Shelters are immune from civil liability for disposing of a pet that is brought in by the owner.”

Owners think by leaving their pets at a shelter, they’ll have another chance for a home but that’s not always the case. Over 30 percent of animals that enter a shelter are euthanized.

When I worked in an animal shelter, I’d often hear cats meow for days in anguish, not knowing why they were left behind by the one person they trusted to take care of them. Even if they lived and eventually found another home, what they went through was not only heartbreaking but inhumane. No one wants to be left behind terrified, alone and betrayed.

The best solution for the problem of animal abandonment then becomes prevention through education on responsible pet ownership.

“Many animal shelters now have printed information on coping with the most common behavioral problems, and some even provide telephone hotlines to help people work through issues,” wrote Lisa Towell, who’s worked as a shelter volunteer for 10 years in an op-ed for PETA Prime. “Shelters can help to educate adopters about the commitment involved in being an animal caregiver.”

According to the American Humane Association, the most common reason why people relinquish or give away their dogs and cats is because their place of residence does not allow pets (29 percent for dogs and 21 percent for cats). Allergies are the second most common reason for cats (11 percent), while not enough time, divorce/death and behavior issues each make up the reasoning for 10 percent of relinquishments.

Through those resources people would learn that allergies can in most times be managed or that a cat missing the litter box is an issue easily fixed. A recent study showed that 96 percent of dogs relinquished for behavior problems never received any behavior training.

People simply give up on their pets because they don’t see them as a family member. They wouldn’t leave their kids behind if they misbehaved, would they? But they don’t equate the responsibility of caring for an animal to the one of caring for a child even though both rely solely on them for food, guidance and affection. Education could lead the way to a shift in that mindset and hopefully one day stories like Snowflake’s will be just a nightmare from long, long ago.

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Photo Credit: DimitrovoPhtography/ThinkStock

725 comments

Michael F
Michael F7 days ago

Thank You for Sharing This !!!

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Peggy B
Peggy B8 days ago

TYFS

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Glennis W
Glennis W9 days ago

A deplorable crime Thank you for caring and sharing

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Glennis W
Glennis W9 days ago

Anyone who does it should be jailed or heavily fined Thank you for caring and sharing

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Glennis W
Glennis W9 days ago

It is also very cruel Thank you for caring and sharing

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Glennis W
Glennis W9 days ago

Yes YES Yes Thank you for caring and sharing

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Clare O'Beara
Clare O'Beara9 days ago

our pets die in contented old age

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Clare O'Beara
Clare O'Beara9 days ago

animals deserve better

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Clare O'Beara
Clare O'Beara9 days ago

as with kids do not keep them if you can't afford them

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Clare O'Beara
Clare O'Beara9 days ago

sad

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