Every state has laws prohibiting cruelty to animals. However, in the past, it was difficult to prosecute cases of animal cruelty that spanned more than one state or jurisdiction because of the lack of federal legislation. Therefore, animal welfare activists, law enforcement and members of Congress recognized a need for legislation making animal cruelty a crime at the federal level. 

Last week, the President signed the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act into federal law. It makes the cruel mistreatment or torture of animals a federal crime, punishable by up to seven years in prison and/or a fine. 

Bipartisan initiative 

The bill advanced through both the House and the Senate thanks to the cooperative efforts of legislators in both parties. A Democratic senator reports working together with a Republican colleague for years to pass a bill like this and expresses gratitude at seeing it finally become a law. 

For some supporters of the law, the welfare of animals is their primary concern. The president of the Humane Society of America issued a statement saying that by making animal cruelty a federal crime, PACT makes a statement about American values. 

However, the bill also received the endorsement of national law enforcement groups. Authorities involved in these groups described a link between violence against human beings and extreme cruelty to animals. Presumably, the hope is that incarcerating those who commit acts of cruelty against animals will prevent future violent crimes against human beings. 

Scope of the law 

The new law protects living non-human mammals, amphibians, birds and reptiles, making it illegal to intentionally inflict serious harm on them. It specifically bans the following violent acts: 

  • Burning 
  • Crushing 
  • Drowning 
  • Impaling 
  • Suffocating 

The scope of the law extends to any depiction of animal cruelty in the form of photographs, electronic images, digital or video recording or motion picture film. It refers to these records collectively as “animal crush videos” and explicitly bans them.