How to Investigate Animal Cruelty in NY State – A Manual of Procedures


The Animal Welfare Act

The Animal Welfare Act (AWA) was the first federal law in the US regulating animals in research. The AWA applies to animal carriers, handlers, dealers, breeders, and exhibitors in addition to research laboratories, and sets minimum standards of care that must be provided for animals — including housing, handling, sanitation, food, water, veterinary care and protection from weather extremes. It covers warm-blooded species, with the exception of birds, rats of the genus Rattus, and mice of the genus Mus -bred for use in research.

USDA Animal Care, a unit within the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, administers the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). This federal law establishes requirements concerning the transportation, sale, and handling of certain animals and includes restrictions on the importation of live dogs for purposes of resale, prohibitions on animal fighting ventures, and provisions intended to prevent the theft of personal pets.

For more information:

The USDA Animal Welfare Act may be relevant when you investigate animal cruelty that involves the following:

  • animal dealers, such as dog breeders, breeders of research animals
  • breeders of hunting dogs, security dogs
  • animal exhibitors, such as zoos (including road side zoos), carnivals, circuses, animal acts, educational exhibits
  • airport terminal animal holding facilities
  • any business (including pet stores) that deals with wild animals that are not indigenous to New York State (meaning not native to the state, for example, prairie dogs, pot-bellied pigs)

In general, such enterprises must be licensed by the USDA and operated according the standards established by the Animal Welfare Act. Document your case and contact the USDA. You can or contact them at their Fort Collins, CO office:

2150 Centre Ave.
Building B, Mailstop 3W11
Fort Collins, CO 80526-8117

Phone: (970) 494-7478
Fax: (970) 494-7461

If you have a situation of which you are not sure, call the USDA. The complaint form to complete if you have a case that is violating the Animal Welfare Act is:


  1. You may be investigating a case involving an irresponsible breeder or puppy mill owner who is in violation of sections of Article 26 of the NYS Agriculture & Markets Laws. If the breeder has more than three breeding bitches and is selling the litters wholesale, he must be licensed under the Animal Welfare Act and must be in compliance with standards specified under the Animal Welfare Act.
  2. You may be investigating a case involving roadside or other zoos which are violating sections of Article 26 of the NYS Agriculture & Markets Laws. If the zoo contains animals that are not indigenous to NYS (meaning they are not native to the state, but have been imported from somewhere else, such as lion cubs, for example) then the zoo must be licensed by the USDA and meet certain mandated standards of care established by the Animal Welfare Act.

The Horse Protection Act

The Horse Protection Act is a Federal law, enforced by APHIS, that makes it unlawful for any person to show, exhibit, sell, or transport sore horses, or to use any equipment, device, paraphernalia, or substance prohibited by USDA – at such events, thus, preventing the soring of horses at such events.

Passed by Congress in 1970, the Horse Protection Act (HPA) (PL 91-540) prohibits the showing, sale, auction, exhibition, or transport of sored horses.

Soring is the unethical and illegal practice of deliberately inflicting pain to exaggerate the leg motion of horses to gain an unfair advantage in the show ring. The chest-high stride achieved by soring is known in the industry as the “big lick.”

If you encounter a violation of the HPA, you can use the same contact information as above, and also use the same complaint form.