Legislation Relating to Animal Cruelty Laws

In August 2013, the Animal Rescue League of Boston responded to the case of “Puppy Doe,” a puppy who was systematically and severely tortured over several months. She had to be humanely euthanized because her injuries were so severe. Her alleged abuser has been charged. The details of this case galvanized people who care about animals to ensure that Puppy Doe’s abuser (and others who engage in such cruel acts) will be penalized in a way that is sufficient for the crime. To read more about Puppy Doe, visit the Animal Rescue League of Boston's website.

As a result, there has been an inquiry into our laws that deal with animal cruelty and efforts to make the laws stronger.  While Massachusetts consistently ranks in the top tier of states regarding the strength of our laws to protect animals, there is always room for improvement. The last time the penalties were updated was almost a decade ago — in 2004.  And at that time, the increase was less than was originally sought. It is important we remain on the forefront of animal protection and ensure that our laws reflect our values as a community. Additionally, there is a critical link between domestic violence and cruelty to animals. Research has shown consistent patterns of animal cruelty among perpetrators of other forms of violence, including child abuse, spousal abuse, and elder abuse. It’s in everyone’s best interest to address animal abuse as the serious crime it is.

Below are bills related to animal cruelty in Massachusetts. In addition to increasing the penalties, there are bills filed that would update and clarify other parts of the cruelty statutes:


H. 1262: An Act Increasing Penalties for Cruelty to Animals
Sponsor:  Rep. Coakley-Rivera
Increases penalties from the maximum penalties from 5 to 10 years and from $2,500 to $5,000.

New: H. 3692: An Act Relating to Animal Cruelty
Sponsor: Rep. Kafka
This bill would increase the penalties for certain type of animal abuse.  Specifically, in chapter 272 section 77 of the Massachusetts General Laws, it increases the penalties for the “worst” type of animal cruelty - such as torturing or mutilating - and increases the fines from $2,500 to $25,000 and from a maximum of 5 years in prison to a maximum of 10 years. Read more.


New: S.1914: An Act Protecting Animal Welfare and Safety (PAWS)
Sponsor: Senator Bruce Tarr
This bill contains a variety of provisions relating to animal cruelty. Read the bill. Read the summary. Read the press release.


H. 1852: An Act to Ensure Adequate Care of Animals In Cities and Towns

This bill would clarify the existing animal cruelty law to give specific express notice to animal owners and possessors that they have an obligation to provide their animals with veterinary care that is necessary to prevent or relieve their animals’ suffering. Over 20 states have some provision in their statutes creating such a duty. Sponsor: Representative Louis Kafka. Status: referred to the Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government (public hearing already held). Read More.

H. 1243: An Act updating the law relating to posting a security for seized animals in cruelty cases
This bill would make changes to the statute that passed in 2002 regarding the seizure of animals in connection with cruelty investigations. The law now allows an authority that seizes an animal pursuant to applicable Massachusetts law for alleged cruelty or neglect to request the court to order a refundable security/bond to cover the costs of caring for the animal during the period of time the animal is held until the case is adjudicated. Law enforcement officials must hold seized animals as evidence and thus the animals cannot be adopted or returned to an owner until the case has been adjudicated. However, animals are different than other seized property; animals must receive food, water, board, and often-extensive medical care from the authority that took possession of them as part of the arrest or seizure. . The changes in this bill are designed to address those issues that have arisen in practice and have limited the effectiveness of this law. Additionally, since animal cruelty became a felony in 2004, some of the language is now outdated and would be fixed with this bill. Sponsor: Representative Linda Campbell. Status: Referred to the Committee on the Judiciary. Read more.

H. 918: An Act Concerning the use of Certain Insurance Underwriting Guidelines Pertaining to Dogs Harbored upon the Insured Property
Puppy Doe was believed to have been given away because her original owner's landlord was concerned about losing insurance. This bill would prohibit Massachusetts homeowners insurance companies from refusing to provide coverage or charging higher premiums based on a homeowner's breed of dog. Sponsor: Representative Anne Gobi. Status: referred to the Committee on Financial Services (public hearing Sept. 17, 2013) Read more.