Education Center

CRUELTY PREVENTION: How You Can Make A Difference

Find out about:

• Recognizing animal cruelty
• Reporting animal cruelty
• Educate yourself – learn the facts

There are few things in the lives of compassionate individuals which sicken us more than the thought of cruelty to innocent living beings. We cannot fathom how, in the 21st century, animal cruelty can exist in our supposedly more enlightened times. We mourn for its victims and feel hopeless rage at its perpetrators. We see it manifested in the eyes of the companion animals who have placed their trust in us, and in the thousands upon thousands who suffered after placing their trust in someone who violated it. Animal cruelty shocks even those of us who see its manifestation every day in shelters, veterinary clinics, and animal control facilities. It pervades every class and race and age. It is often random and unpredictable. Sometimes, we wonder if it will ever end, and if we, as individuals, have any power to stop it.

We do. Every small thing we can do makes a difference. Sweeping changes do not happen overnight. It has been said that Americans are an impatient people-we want everything now, we cannot wait. An end to animal cruelty is one of the things that cannot wait, and though change happens slowly, the tide is slowly turning. We need to use our impatient natures not to become discouraged at the lack of progress, but to keep fighting until the day when every animal has a loving home, and none are abused or neglected.

The first humane society in the United States was founded in 1866 in New York. Its founding was followed by the country’s first anti-cruelty law, which set in motion events leading to today’s more stringent laws against animal cruelty. The Atlanta Humane Society was founded in 1873 after Robert E. Lee visited our city and was appalled at the poor treatment of animals and children that he witnessed. The AHS has been the leading community care and education center for Atlanta for over 130 years-and we are still going strong, thanks to concerned citizens like you.

Types of Cruelty

Recognizing animal cruelty in the emotional sense is easier than recognizing it in the legal sense. The personal standards we set for our own animals and their care are not shared by everyone, and may even differ along racial, cultural, or ethnic lines. It is important to remember that cultural differences often highlight practices we find unacceptable. These same cultures often shake their heads in wonderment at the way we treat our animals.

Cultural laws are not always aligned with societal laws, though. As our society becomes more diverse, we must remember this. The rule of law supersedes cultural “laws”
or rules.

Georgia Law

Legal Definition of Animal Cruelty in Georgia:
Cruelty to Animals (misdemeanor charge):

O.C.G.A. §16-12-4 states a person will be guilty of cruelty to animals when they:

  • Cause physical pain, suffering, or death to any animal by any unjustifiable act or omission; or
  • Intentionally exercise custody, control, possession, or ownership of an animal and fail to provide to such animal adequate food, water, sanitary conditions, or ventilation that is consistent with what a reasonable person of ordinary knowledge would believe is the normal requirement and feeding habit for such animal’s size, species, breed, age, and physical condition.
  • Any person convicted of the offense of cruelty to animals shall be guilty of a misdemeanor; provided, however, upon the second or subsequent conviction of cruelty to animals shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of a high and aggravated nature.


Willful neglect means the intentional withholding of food and water required by an animal to prevent starvation or dehydration. O.C.G.A. 16-12-4

Adequate food and water means food and water that is sufficient in an amount and appropriate for the particular type of animal to prevent starvation, dehydration, or a significant risk to the animal’s health from a lack of food or water. O.C.G.A. ߬4-11-2, 4-13-2

Humane care of animals means, but is not limited to, the provision of adequate heat, ventilation, sanitary shelter, and wholesome and adequate food and water, consistent with the normal requirements and feeding habits of the animal’s size, species, and breed. O.C.G.A. ߬4-11-2, 4-13-2

Aggravated Cruelty to Animals (felony charge): A person commits the offense of aggravated cruelty to animals when he or she:


  • Maliciously causes the death of an animal;
  • Maliciously causes physical harm to an animal by depriving it of a member of its body, by rendering a part of such animal’s body useless, or by seriously disfiguring such animal’s body or a member thereof;
  • Maliciously tortures an animal by the infliction of or subjection to severe or prolonged physical pain;
  • Maliciously administers poison to an animal, or exposes an animal to any poisonous substance, with the intent that the substance be taken or swallowed by the animal; or
  • Having intentionally exercised custody, control, possession, or ownership of an animal, maliciously fails to provide to such animal adequate food, water, sanitary conditions, or ventilation that is consistent with what a reasonable person of ordinary knowledge would believe is the normal requirement and feeding habit for such animal’s size, species, breed, age, and physical condition to the extent that the death of such animal results or a member of its body is rendered useless or is seriously disfigured.

Any person convicted of the offense of aggravated cruelty to animals shall be guilty of a felony and shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than one nor more than five years, a fine not to exceed $15,000.00, or both; provided, however, that any person who has had a prior adjudication of guilt for the offense of aggravated cruelty to animals, upon the second or subsequent conviction of aggravated cruelty to animals shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than one nor more than ten years, a fine not to exceed $100,000.00, or both.

Dog Fighting: O.C.G.A. 16-12-37:

Any person who:

  • Owns, possesses, trains, transports, or sells any dog with the intent that such dog shall be engaged in fighting with another dog;
  • For amusement or gain, causes any dog to fight with another dog or for amusement or gain, causes any dogs to injure each other;
  • Wagers money or anything of value on the result of such dogfighting;
  • Knowingly permits any act in violation of the above on any premises under the ownership or control of such person or knowingly aids or abets any such act; or
  • Knowingly promotes or advertises an exhibition of fighting with another dog

shall be guilty of a felony and, upon the first conviction thereof, shall be punished by imprisonment of not less than one nor more than five years, a fine of not less than $5,000.00, or both such fine and imprisonment. On a second or subsequent conviction, such person shall be punished by imprisonment of not less than one nor more than ten years, a fine of not less than $15,000.00, or both such fine and imprisonment.


Any person who:

  • Is knowingly present only as a spectator at any place for the fighting of dogs shall, upon a first conviction thereof, be guilty of a misdemeanor of a high and aggravated nature. On a second conviction, such person shall be guilty of a felony and shall be punished by imprisonment of not less than one nor more than five years, a fine of not less than $5,000.00, or both such fine and imprisonment. On a third or subsequent conviction, such person shall be punished by imprisonment of not less than one nor more than ten years, a fine of not less than $15,000.00, or both such fine and imprisonment.

Any dog subject to fighting may be impounded pursuant to the provisions of Code Sections 4-11-9.2 through 4-11-9.6.

Cock Fighting (not legally defined): A person commits the offense of chicken fighting when he/she causes or allows a chicken to fight another chicken for sport or gaming purposes or maintains or operates any event at which chickens are allowed or encouraged to fight one another.


MISDEMEANOR – any crime less serious than a felony, which is punishable by a fine or time spent in jail up to one year.

FELONY– an offense punishable by a maximum term of imprisonment of more than one year.

PUPPY MILLS What exactly are puppy mills? Are they real, or are they just some scare tactic that animal rights activists use? Puppy mills are real, and they exist across the US. Simply put, a puppy mill is a large-scale dog-breeding operation that treats the creation of puppies solely as a moneymaking venture. Though there is nothing illegal about profiting from the breeding of animals, the breeding dogs in mills often suffer from neglect (including having to live their entire lives in wire-floored cages with little human contact), and the pups produced are simply not getting the care and nurturing that puppies need in order to become good pets. Puppy mills hurt dogs because they keep them isolated and provide little concern for their welfare. Technically, federal and state laws exist to mandate minimum-care standards in puppy mills, but more enforcement of these laws are needed, and puppy millers often find ways to get around the laws. Animal advocates have been fighting puppy mills for a long time, but the bottom line is that mills will not go away until consumers stop buying puppies from pet stores or other questionable sources. Simply put, if you are buying a purposefully-bred dog, and you cannot see the area in which the pup was raised, go elsewhere. (For more information about good sources for pets, contact the AHS Education Department at the number listed on the back of this pamphlet.)

DOGFIGHTING – a “sport” in which two dogs are put together to fight, often to the death. Because of its cruel nature and the fact that it often cloaks illicit activities such as gambling, dogfighting is illegal in all 50 states. It is a felony in Georgia, where those convicted often see prison sentences of five years or more (these sentences are often compounded when the participants are found guilty of illegal gambling, and in these cases, land and possessions can be seized as a result of the conviction). If you suspect dogfighting in your neighborhood, call your county Animal Control office or the police. Not only is the practice dangerous for the dogs, it often encourages other marginal activities, and it attracts individuals who have little regard for the welfare of others.

What you can do

According to the Humane Association of Georgia, here are some steps to take to report animal cruelty in GA:

 The name, address and telephone number of the person who witnessed the alleged incident. Such information maybe kept confidential, depending on the particular agency; however, it is helpful for investigators to have a point of contact in the event of misdirection or miscommunication. Remember, the burden of proof falls upon the accuser.

Who: An accurate identity of the alleged perpetrator, if known, including name, address and telephone number, if possible; other helpful identifying information may include physical description, place of employment, description of vehicles (including tag numbers) and known associates or co-participants in the alleged criminal activity.

What and How: An accurate and exact description of the incident witnessed. The investigator must receive sufficient details and be able to verify substantial portions of the information as true before being used to establish probable cause. Document complete descriptions of the animals and associated conditions and include:

Pertinent conversations with the alleged perpetrator;

Eyewitness accounts to reconstruct the exact happenings of what and how the incident occurred (written notes and PHOTOGRAPHS are very valuable – a picture is worth a thousand words);

Written documents or reports that verify conditions (i.e., veterinary examination findings);

When: The date(s) and time(s) of the incident(s)

Where: The specific location where the incident was witnessed (physical address and city, community, or county), including directions.

Without a perpetrator, the evidence, and at least one witness, the case may not be tried.

To report individuals suspected of animal cruelty, call your local county animal control agency, or, if lacking that, the police or sheriff in your area. Use the non-emergency number unless the act is ongoing. If you suspect that other crimes are being committed, be sure to say so during your call. (The AHS does not have the statutory authority to investigate animal cruelty.)

To report animal shelters, rescue groups and humane societies that house animals, or pet breeders, pet dealers, pet shops, pet groomers, kennels, or aviaries, contact the Georgia Department of Agriculture. All of the aforementioned agencies are required to have an Animal Protection License which must be prominently displayed at each licensed place of business.

I Reported It, Now What?

You may wonder why more animal abusers aren’t going to jail in your area, in spite of the fact that you see quite a few stories in the news. Punishment meted out to animal abusers varies by state, and few animal cruelty cases make big headlines, but the main reason that it may seem as if nothing is being done is because without a perpetrator, the evidence, and at least one witness, there may not be a case to be tried. Many cruelty cases never go to trial because of a lack of one or more of these elements.

Witnesses may be too afraid of retaliation to speak out, or the evidence may be in question. Perhaps the true perpetrator isn’t known. Though we believe strongly that cruelty should never be tolerated, the courts are overflowing with cases deemed more important, and police departments and animal control agencies are often understaffed. You may feel as if no one else but you seems to care. The perpetrator may only be levied a small fine, or receive no punishment at all. It can be very frustrating.

But as we have already discussed, change happens slowly, and piecemeal. More and more research is coming to light that people who abuse animals “move on” to human victims as they gain confidence. Though animal abuse should be stopped for its own sake, stiffer penalties and faster enforcement may come about sooner if the link between animal abuse and abuse to human beings becomes more evident. This is happening. Also, people are becoming more enlightened to the plight of animals, and the general consciousness seems to be improving, albeit slowly. Education, as always, is the biggest link in the chain.

Make a Difference

In sports, a common phrase is “the best defense is a good offense.” With animal cruelty, education and enforcement of laws are the whole offensive strategy! It is imperative that all human beings learn compassion at the earliest age possible, and that children see compassion being practiced around them daily. Cruelty to animals is never acceptable, and the proverbial “ounce of prevention” can truly be a life saver.

Model good behavior to your own children, their friends, and the community:

Spay or neuter your pets per your veterinarian’s instructions as soon as you acquire the pet, and explain to friends and family why this procedure is an important part of pet ownership: it saves lives, reduces cruelty, and makes owning pets easier and less frustrating, to name a few.

Treat your own pets kindly and make sure you are meeting their needs. Most pets (especially dogs and cats) need companionship and human contact daily to thrive. Leaving the dog alone all day with nothing to do will cause behavior problems and is akin to neglect. Dogs do best when they can be close to their human “pack” for much of the day. If you must leave your dog alone, make sure he is housed comfortably and has plaenty of fresh food, fresh water, and adequate shelter for the weather (if he is outdoors). Make time to be with your pet every day for more than a few hours.

If you must leave your dog outside, restrain him humanely behind a secure fence instead of tying him to an object. Though tying the dog may make him unable to run away, it restricts his necessary movement and creates many problems, including aggression and nuisance barking. Tied-out dogs often get tangled in their lines and injure themselves, or become unable to reach their food, water, or shelter. If a fence is not feasible, confine the dog humanely indoors or build a secure dog run, and make sure he gets lots of walks and time with you on a daily basis.

Has your child’s bunny, hamster, guinea pig, etc. become bothersome to feed and clean? These animals are pets, and should NEVER be “released” into the wild! They are not able to take care of themselves. Teach children how to care for them properly so that they can enjoy the pet for its lifetime. Pets are not disposable and children need to learn early that any pet is a big responsibility. If they witness you taking part in humanely training and caring for pets so that the animals will continue to be joyful to live with, they will learn and emulate that behavior. Taking the family dog to the shelter when it becomes troublesome and getting a new one sends the wrong message to children. Pets are family members!

Walk your dog (on leash, of course) often, keep cats indoors for safety, visit your veterinarian regularly, report stray animals to animal control, and encourage other pet-owning neighbors and friends to do their part, too. We are the ones who will make the difference!



This information is part of the Atlanta Humane Society’s SmartHeart Educational Series.

The AHS depends on friends to provide funding for our services and programs of animal aid, support for individuals with animal related problems, and community animal issues.

The Atlanta Humane Society and Society For Prevention Of Cruelty To Animals, Inc. is a private nonprofit organization for the purpose of preventing cruelty, relieving suffering, and providing humane treatment of animals. The Society’s mission is to eliminate causes of animal suffering with an emphasis on education and the human/animal bond