Cruelty to animals is the infliction of suffering or harm upon animals, other than humans, for purposes other than self-defense. More narrowly, it can be harm for specific gain, such as killing animals for food or fur use. Diverging viewpoints are held by jurisdictions throughout the world.
Broadly speaking, there are two approaches to the issue. The animal welfare position holds that there is nothing inherently wrong with using animals for human purposes, such as food, clothing, entertainment, and research, but that it should be done in a humane way that minimizes unnecessary pain and suffering. Animal rights theorists criticize this position, arguing that the words "unnecessary" and "humane" are subject to widely differing interpretations, and that the only way to ensure protection for animals is to end their status as property, and to ensure that they are never used as commodities. Laws concerning animal cruelty are designed to prevent needless cruelty to animals, rather than killing for other aims such as food, or they concern species not eaten as food in the country involved, such as those regarded as pets.
Many jurisdictions around the world have enacted statutes which forbid cruelty to some animals but these vary by country and in some cases by the use or practice.
In Australia, many states have enacted legislation outlawing cruelty to animals, however, it is argued that welfare laws do not adequately extend to production animals. Whilst police maintain an overall jurisdiction in prosecution of criminal matters, in many states officers of the RSPCA and other animal welfare charities are accorded authority to investigate and prosecute animal cruelty offences.
Most jurisdictions simply do not depend on law enforcement officers who may not be knowledgeable in the area or assign it a high priority.
As of 2006 there were no laws in China governing acts of cruelty to animals. In certain jurisdictions such as Fuzhou, dog control officers may kill any unaccompanied dogs on sight. However, the People's Republic of China is currently in the process of making changes to its stray-dog population laws in the capital city, Beijing. Mr. Zheng Gang who is the director of the Internal and Judicial Committee which comes under the Beijing Municipal People's Congress (BMPC), supports the new draft of the Beijing Municipal Regulation on Dogs from the local government. This new law is due to replace the current Beijing Municipal Regulation on Dog Ownership, introduced in 1889. The current regulation talks of "strictly" limiting dog ownership and controlling the number of dogs in the city. The new draft focuses instead on "strict management and combining restrictions with management." There are no government supported charitable organizations like the RSPCA, which monitors the cases on animal cruelty, so that all kinds of animal abuses, such as to fish, tigers, and bears, are to be reported for law enforcement and animal welfare.
In September 2009, legislation was drafted to address deliberate cruelty to animals in China. If passed, the legislation would offer some protection to pets, captive wildlife and animals used in laboratories, as well as regulating how farm animals are raised, transported and slaughtered.
Egyptian law states that anyone who inhumanely beats or intentionally kills any domesticated animal may be jailed or fined, however, these laws are rarely enforced. The Egyptian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was established by the British over a hundred years ago, and is currently administered by the Egyptians. The SPCA was instrumental in promoting a 1997 ban on bullfighting in Egypt.
Acts of cruelty against animals can be punished with imprisonment, for a minimum of three months up to a maximum of three years, and with a fine ranging from a minimum of 3000 Euros to a maximum of 160,000 Euros, as for the law n°189/2004. The law was passed mainly to crush the phenomenon of dog fighting, which in Italy is a clandestine blood sport fully controlled by organized crime.
Despite passages in the Qur’an advocating positive treatment of animals, veterinarian Lana Dunn and several Saudi nationals report that there are no laws to protect animals from cruelty since the term is not well-defined within the Saudi legal system. They point to a lack of a governing body to supervise conditions for animals, particularly in pet stores and in the exotic animal trade with East Africa.
In Mexico, there are little to no animal cruelty laws, however, it has been suggested that animal cruelty laws are slowly being implemented. The country's current policy usually condemns physical harm to animals as property damage to the owners of the abused animal. The Law of Animal Protection of the Federal District is wide-ranging, based on banning 'unnecessary suffering'. Similar laws now exist in most states. However, this is disregarded by much of the public and authorities.
In the United Kingdom, cruelty to animals is a criminal offense for which one may be jailed for up to 51 weeks and may be fined up to £20,000.
On August 18, 1911, the House of Commons introduced the Protection of Animals Act 1911 (c.27) following lobbying by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). The maximum punishment was 6 months of "hard labour" with a fine of 25 pounds.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund releases an annual report ranking the animal protection laws of every state based on their relative strength and general comprehensiveness. In 2008's report, the top five states for their strong anti-cruelty laws were California, Illinois, Maine, Michigan, and Oregon. The five states with the weakest animal cruelty laws were Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Mississippi, and North Dakota.
In the United States a few jurisdictions, notably Massachusetts and New York, agents of humane societies and associations may be appointed as special officers to enforce statutes outlawing animal cruelty. "Brute Force: Animal Police and the Challenge of Cruelty" by Arnold Arluke is an ethnographic study of these special humane law enforcement officers.
In 2004, a Florida legislator proposed a ban on "cruelty to bovines," stating: "A person who, for the purpose of practice, entertainment, or sport, intentionally fells, trips, or otherwise causes a cow to fall or lose its balance by means of roping, lassoing, dragging, or otherwise touching the tail of the cow commits a misdemeanor of the first degree." The proposal did not become law.
It is to be noted, however, that in the United States ear cropping, tail docking, the Geier Hitch, rodeo sports and other acts perceived as cruelty in many other countries are sometimes condoned. Penalties for cruelty can be minimal, if pursued. Currently, 46 of the 50 states have enacted felony penalties for certain forms of animal abuse. However, in most jurisdictions, animal cruelty is most commonly charged as a misdemeanor offense. In one recent California case, a felony conviction for animal cruelty could theoretically net a 25 year to life sentence due to their three-strikes law, which increases sentences based on prior felony convictions.
In 2003, West Hollywood, California passed an ordinance banning declawing of house cats. In 2007, Norfolk, Virginia passed legislation only allowing the procedure for medical reasons. However, most jurisdictions allow the procedure. It is illegal in many parts of Europe.
Many state animal cruelty laws exempt animals used in United States Department of Agriculture licensed facilities since the use and humane treatment of some of these animals is regulated by the federal Animal Welfare Act. In 1992, a Federal District Court judge ruled that mice, rats and birds bred for laboratory use, who account for about 90% of animals used in laboratories, should be covered by the Animal Welfare Act, however this decision was never implemented into law.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund releases an annual report ranking the animal protection laws of every province and territory based on their relative strength and general comprehensiveness. In 2009's report, the top four, for their strong anti-cruelty laws, were British Columbia, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, and Ontario. The worst four were New Brunswick, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and Quebec.
The use of animals in the circus has been controversial since animal welfare groups have documented instances of animal cruelty during the training of performing animals. The Humane Society of the United States has documented multiple cases of abuse and neglect, and cite several reasons for opposing the use of animals in circuses, including confining enclosures, lack of regular veterinary care, abusive training methods and lack of oversight by regulating bodies. Animal trainers have argued that some criticism is not based in fact, including beliefs that animals are 'hurt' by being shouted at, that caging is cruel and common, and the harm caused by the use of whips, chains or training implements.
In 2009, Bolivia passed legislation banning the use of any animals, wild or domestic, in circuses. The law states that circuses "constitute an act of cruelty." Circus operators have one year from the bill's passage on July 1, 2009 to comply.
In 2010, Lebanese animal rights groups became enraged when it was learned that wild performing animals belonging to the Monte Carlo Circus were transported from Egypt to Lebanon without being provided with food and water.
Following the campaign, new regulations were enacted that prohibit the use of animals in circuses in Israel. Finland and Singapore have restricted the use of animals in entertainment. The UK and Scottish Parliaments have committed to ban certain wild animals in travelling circuses and approximately 200 local authorities in the UK have banned all animal acts on council land. Animal acts are still very popular throughout much of Europe, the Americas and Asia. In the United States animal welfare standards are overseen by the United States Department of Agriculture under provisions of the Animal Welfare Act. Efforts to ban circus animals in cities like Denver, Colorado have been rejected by voters. Some circuses now present animal-free acts.
There are many reasons why individuals abuse animals. Animal cruelty covers a wide range of actions (or lack of action). Learning about animal abuse has revealed patterns of behavior employed by abusers.
Animal cruelty is often broken down into two main categories: active and passive, also referred to as commission and omission, respectively.
Passive cruelty is typified by cases of neglect, in which the cruelty is a lack of action rather than the action itself. Examples of neglect are starvation, dehydration, parasite infestations, allowing a collar to grow into an animal’s skin, inadequate shelter in extreme weather conditions, and failure to seek veterinary care when necessary.
In many cases of neglect in which an investigator believes that the cruelty occurred out of ignorance, the investigator may attempt to educate the pet owner, then revisit the situation. In more severe cases, exigent circumstances may require that the animal be removed for veterinary care.
Active cruelty implies malicious intent, as when a person has deliberately and intentionally caused harm to an animal, and is sometimes referred to as NAI (Non-Accidental Injury). Acts of intentional animal cruelty may be indicators of serious psychological problems.  There is an intrinsic link between battered pets and battered women and children. The likelihood that women's shelter personnel will encounter women and children who have been threatened by batterers using animal abuse as a weapon is high. This is because more families in America have pets than have children. Secondly, the majority of pet owners are themselves parents with children. Thirdly, 64.1% of households with children under age 6, and 74.8% of households with children over age 6, also have pets. Lastly, as many as 71% of pet-owning women seeking shelter at safe houses have reported that their partner had threatened and/or actually hurt or killed one or more of their pets; 32% of these women reported that one or more of their children had also hurt or killed pets. Battered women report that they are prevented from leaving their abusers because they fear what will happen to the animals in their absence. Animal abuse sometimes is used as a form of intimidation in domestic disputes.
One of the known warning signs of certain psychopathologies, including anti-social personality disorder, also known as psychopathic personality disorder, is a history of torturing pets and small animals, a behavior known as zoosadism. According to the New York Times, "[t]he FBI has found that a history of cruelty to animals is one of the traits that regularly appears in its computer records of serial rapists and murderers, and the standard diagnostic and treatment manual for psychiatric and emotional disorders lists cruelty to animals a diagnostic criterion for conduct disorders. "A survey of psychiatric patients who had repeatedly tortured dogs and cats found all of them had high levels of aggression toward people as well, including one patient who had murdered a young boy." Robert K. Ressler, an agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation's behavioral sciences unit, studied serial killers and noted,"Murderers like this (Jeffrey Dahmer) very often start out by killing and torturing animals as kids."
Cruelty to animals is one of the three components of the Macdonald triad, indicators of violent antisocial behavior in children and adolescents. According to the studies used to form this model, cruelty to animals is a common (but not with every case) behavior in children and adolescents who grow up to become serial killers and other violent criminals.
It has also been found that animal cruelty in children is frequently committed by children who have witnessed or been victims of abuse themselves. In two separate studies cited by the Humane Society of the United States roughly one-third of families suffering from domestic abuse indicated that at least one child had hurt or killed a pet.
Animal cruelty has long been an issue with the art form of filmmaking, with even some big-budget Hollywood films receiving criticism for allegedly harmful—and sometimes lethal—treatment of animals during production. One of the most infamous examples of animal cruelty in film was Michael Cimino's legendary flop Heaven's Gate, in which numerous animals were brutalized and even killed during production. Cimino allegedly killed chickens and bled horses from the neck to gather samples of their blood to smear on actors for Heaven's Gate, and also allegedly had a horse blown up with dynamite while shooting a battle sequence, the shot of which made it into the film. After the release of the film Reds, the star and director of the picture, Warren Beatty apologized for his Spanish film crew's use of tripwires on horses while filming a battle scene, when Beatty wasn't present. Tripwires were used against horses when Rambo III and The Thirteenth Warrior were being filmed. An ox was sliced nearly in half during production of Apocalypse Now, while a donkey was bled to death for dramatic effect for the film Manderlay, in a scene later cut from the film.
Cruelty in film exists in movies outside the United States. There is a case of cruelty to animals in the South Korean film The Isle, according to its director Kim Ki-Duk. In the film, a real frog is skinned alive while fish are mutilated. Several animals were killed for the camera in the controversial Italian film Cannibal Holocaust. The images in the film include the slow and graphic beheading and ripping apart of a turtle, a monkey being beheaded and its brains being consumed by natives and a spider being chopped apart. In fact, Cannibal Holocaust was only one film in a collective of similarly themed movies (cannibal films) that featured unstaged animal cruelty. Their influences were rooted in the films of Mondo filmmakers, which sometimes contained similar content. In several countries, such as the UK, Cannibal Holocaust was only allowed for release with most of the animal cruelty edited out.
More recently, the video sharing site YouTube has been criticized for hosting thousands of videos of real life animal cruelty, especially the feeding of one animal to another for the purposes of entertainment and spectacle. Although some of these videos have been flagged as inappropriate by users, YouTube has generally declined to remove them, unlike videos which include copyright infringement.
The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) has contracted with the American Humane Association (AHA) for monitoring of animal use during filming or while on the set. Compliance with this arrangement is voluntary and only applies to films made in the United States. Films monitored by the American Humane Association may bear one of their end-credit messages. Many productions, including those made in the US, do not advise AHA or SAG of animal use in films, so there is no oversight.
Simulations of animal cruelty exist on television, too. On the September 23, 1999 edition of WWE Smackdown!, a plot line had professional wrestler Big Boss Man trick fellow wrestler Al Snow into appearing to eat his pet chihuahua Pepper.
Animal snuff films, known as crush films can be found on the Internet. These films depict instances of animal cruelty, and/or pornographic acts with animals, usually involving the crushing death of an animal, including insects, mice, rats, guinea pigs, hamsters, monkeys, birds, cats, and dogs. In 1999, the U.S. government banned the depiction of animal cruelty, however the law was overturned by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals which ruled that these films were protected as free speech. The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to review the lower court's decision. The case is United States v. Stevens.
Military animals are creatures that have been employed by mankind for use in warfare. They are a specific application of working animals. Examples include horses, dogs and dolphins. Only recently has the involvement of animals in war been questioned, and practices such as using animals for fighting, as living bombs (as in the use of exploding donkeys) or for military testing purposes (such as during the Bikini atomic experiments) may now be criticised for being cruel. Princess Royal, the patron of the British Animals in War Memorial, stated that animals adapt to what humans want them to do, but that they will not do things that they don't want to, despite training. Animal participation in human conflict was commemorated in the United Kingdom in 2004 with the erection of the Animals in War Memorial in Hyde Park, London.
In 2008 a video of a US Marine throwing a puppy over a cliff during the Iraq conflict was popularised as an internet phenomenon and attracted widespread criticism of the soldier's actions for being an act of cruelty.