Document Type


Publication Date



animal rights, animal cruelty


This article is reproduced with the permission of the Maryland Bar Journal, published by the Maryland State Bar Association.


State criminal laws prohibiting cruelty to animals -- which includes both abuse and neglect -- have provided the primary means through which our legal system has protected animals. In some states, including Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia, these laws include explicit provisions that require owners to provide their animals with veterinary care. In other jurisdictions, such a duty has been implied from more general anti-cruelty language. None of these laws, however, make clear what level of care is required. They also leave unanswered the question of whether the treatment choices of owners who do seek care for an animal can ever be overridden. State anti-cruelty statutes, particularly those with provisions requiring veterinary care, may in fact provide a basis for challenging some owner treatment choices, but should only be used in the most egregious cases. Criminalizing behavior involving treatment choice through cruelty statutes requires a careful balance: statutes mandating veterinary care need to leave room for a range of treatment options, including euthanasia, and should take into account an owner’s inability to pay for expensive treatment.


Animal Law

Included in

Animal Law Commons