Criminal Law

Animal Cruelty Laws in Kentucky

Kentucky outlaws cruel mistreatment, abandonment, or neglect of animals, but its animal protection laws are much less detailed than in many other states.
By E.A. Gjelten, Legal Editor
Updated: Dec 4th, 2018

Cruelty to animals is illegal in Kentucky, as it is across the country. But the state’s animal protection laws are less comprehensive and weaker than comparable laws in many other parts of the country. A report by the Animal Legal Defense Fund ranked Kentucky as the worst state for animal protection. Below, we’ve summarized the most important laws that pet owners and animal lovers should know about.

Abuse, Abandonment, and Neglect

Kentucky outlaws various forms of intentional or wanton mistreatment of animals, including:

  • abandonment
  • mutilation or torture
  • beating, and
  • not providing adequate food, drink, space, or veterinary care.

In order to be considered a crime, the mistreatment must be cruel or result in the animal's injury. Animal cruelty is generally a misdemeanor. However, anyone who intentionally tortures a dog or cat without a legal reason will be charged with a felony if the animal was seriously injured or died. (Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 525.130, 525.135.)

Exceptions to Animal Cruelty

The state exempts several kinds of legal activity from its animal cruelty laws, including:

  • genuine animal research
  • hunting, fishing, or trapping
  • veterinary practices
  • food processing, and
  • defense against an aggressive animal.

(Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 525.130(2).)

Organized Animal Fighting

Most forms of participation in dog fighting are a felony in Kentucky, from owning or training the animals to organizing a fight. But it’s only a misdemeanor to watch a dog fight or to provoke other animals to fight for entertainment or profit. (Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 525.125, 525.130(1)(a).)

Speaking With a Lawyer

If you’ve been accused of animal cruelty—or you’re worried about possible charges—it’s a good idea to speak with a criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. An attorney experienced in this area should be able to explain:

  • details on relevant state laws
  • how local authorities tend to interpret those laws
  • ordinances in your local community that may apply to your situation
  • how you might recover your pet if authorities have already taken it, and
  • any defense you might have to criminal charges.

Other questions you might have for a lawyer include:

  • My neighbor keeps his dog chained up outside all day in the hot sun. The animal is clearly suffering. I’ve complained to the police and animal control officials, but no one will take any action. Would it be illegal for me to rescue the dog?
  • Could I be charged with animal cruelty because I don’t have the money for expensive vet treatment for my pet?
  • A neighbor has sued me for poisoning his dog after the animal got into rat poison I put out in my yard. Could I be liable?

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