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

First Edition: 1996

Revised: 2015

Last Revised: 2023

Published by the New York State Humane Association, Inc.

PO Box 3068, Kingston, New York 12402

(845) 336-4514

Copyright © 1996-2023 by the New York State Humane Association

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of the Publisher, except where permitted by law.

Copies may be obtained by downloading the PDF version of the online manual.


This manual is intended to serve as a general and reference tool guide to enable law enforcement officers to benefit from the actual experiences of both police and SPCA investigators who have had practice in investigating animal cruelty.

The authors and publisher are not legal experts or attorneys and are not offering legal services. In any case where the reader has a question regarding the intent of the laws and/or legal proceedings discussed in this manual, or their legal rights and duties in the situations described in this manual, they should consult an attorney for advice BEFORE proceeding.

Although every care has been taken in the compiling and writing of this book to ensure that the information that is presented is appropriate to its purpose, the material contained herein is supplied without representation or warranty of any kind, and the authors, as well as the New York State Humane Association, will not assume any responsibility and shall have no liability, consequential, or otherwise for any damages or adverse consequences, if any, arising from its use, nor for any typographical errors, misprints, misinformation, omissions, mistakes, or any other cause.

The opinions expressed in this book are those of the authors and the publisher and not necessarily those of any humane organization or government agency.


Dedicated to the memory of Phyllis Wright and Samantha Mullen, compassionate individuals, who dedicated their lives to champion the cause of humane treatment of animals.

Phyllis Wright was an animal control officer for many years until she became the Director of Animal Sheltering and Control for The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). In 1982, she was promoted to Vice President for Companion Animals. Her guiding principle was her belief that “education is one of the most effective tools we have to prevent cruelty to animals.”

Samantha Mullen served as NYSHA’s Administrator for many years and was the director of operations for the Animals Farm Home hoarder case, the largest in the country at the time. She worked tirelessly to improve animal protective legislation in New York State. Subsequent to her tenure at NYSHA, she worked at The HSUS in the companion animal field. Following retirement, she returned to New York to continue advocating for animals before her untimely death in 2012.

Their courage, determination, and compassion will remain an inspiration to all of us who continue to work toward a time when all companion animals will have responsible, caring owners.

Both Phyllis Wright and Samantha Mullen are greatly missed by us all.

About the Authors

Susan McDonough
Law Enforcement Technical Input

Sue McDonough, a police officer for many years until her retirement, has vast experience in the investigation of animal cruelty. In addition, she has taught the New York State cruelty laws to police and humane law enforcement officers throughout the state. She was a past president and board member of the New York State Humane Association. In addition to her volunteer work for animals, Sue is an equestrian, a former licensed wildlife rehabilitator, and a past board member of the Columbia-Greene Humane Society in Hudson, New York.

Patricia Valusek
Technical Writer

Pat Valusek has numerous years of technical writing experience with IBM and other companies. She has created technical material and written proposals for both private enterprise and the nonprofit sector. During the course of her volunteer work with NYSHA, she has worked on various cruelty cases throughout New York State. She has served on the Board of the New York State Humane Association for many years, and for the past several years has held the position of president.

Authors’ Notes

  • To avoid the awkwardness of referring to both female and male pronouns throughout the text, we have adopted the convention of using the masculine pronouns to encompass both genders. Thus, wherever you see “his” or “he” used, please understand that it refers to both women and men.
  • Wherever possible, we have provided examples of actual case related documents, such as search warrants, etc. However, to protect us as well as the law enforcement agents involved from the possibility of any litigation, we have obscured the names of both the law enforcement agents and defendants from the documentation.
  • Throughout this manual wherever we refer to “owner,” the term includes anyone responsible for the care and well-being of the animal, as well as the owner himself. Section 353 of the Agriculture & Markets Law is written in broad language (see Chapter 7, “Various NYS Laws Dealing With Animals” section.) Thus, we believe anyone responsible for the care and well-being of the animal can be charged with animal cruelty, if the animal is abused or neglected.
  • We have provided Article 26 of the Agriculture & Markets Law as well as other laws which are current as of 2022. We have annotated them with notes based on our experience and provided cross references to other laws that may have been violated ­ in the belief that this information will be of assistance to you.
  • However, laws may change each year. Thus, to stay current, with the animal cruelty laws and dog control laws, you can print the PDF copies of Article 26 and Article 7 form the NYSHA website. You can also go to the NYS Senate website ( or, respectively) and keep them with this manual.
  • You can also contact for information:

    NYS Department of Agriculture
    Animal Industries
    1 Winners Circle, Albany, NY 12235
    (518) 457-3502


We are grateful to the Charlotte Parks Foundation for financially supporting a major portion of this project. The Parks Foundation had faith in our goal of reducing animal suffering by providing law enforcement officers with a manual for investigating animal cruelty.

A special thank you to the late Samantha Mullen, a former Administrator of NYSHA, who retired from The Humane Society of the United States after many years of service. She provided key information on the animal hoarder section and expert review of the balance of the manual.

A thank you also to our current Administrator, Sondra Woodvine, for all the effort she has put forth to ensure the successful completion of this manual.

A thank you to Randall Lockwood, Ph. D., former Vice-President of Training Initiatives, The Humane Society of the United States, and current Vice President for Anti-Cruelty Initiatives and Legislation Services for the ASPCA, for his editorial overview and support of this project.

We wish to thank the following individuals and organizations without whom this manual could not have been written. If we have missed anyone, it is an oversight we deeply regret.

For law enforcement input and technical legal review, a thank you to:

Joel E. Abelove, Esq., former Assistant District Attorney, Rensselaer County
Chief Richard Basile, former Chief of the Ellenville Police Department
Karen Carlson, Esq.
Anna Charlton, Esq., Rutgers School of Law
Todd Davis, Esq., former Assistant District Attorney, Kings County
Valeria DeSantis, former Shelter Executive Director, Ulster County SPCA
Lee DeLisle, Cruelty Investigator, Columbia-Greene Humane Society
Edward L. Freer, Sergeant, retired from City of Poughkeepsie Police Department
Evelyn Garrett, former Cruelty Investigator, Ulster County SPCA
Detective Sergeant Rick Hovey, retired from New Windsor Police Department
The late Professor Nicholas H. Irons, County College of Morris, Randolph, NJ
The late Michael LaPaglia, Sheriff of Ulster County
Mark MacDonald, former Special Investigator, ASPCA
Gilda I. Mariani, Esq., New York County District Attorney’s Office
Michael J. Moore, Esq., retired from Ward, Sommer & Moore, L.L.C.
Edmund F. Pierce, A.C.P., Director of E. F. Pierce and Associates
John Prizzia, Esq., former Assistant District Attorney, Ulster County
Dean S. Sommer, Esq., Ward, Sommer & Moore, L.L.C.
Thomas J. Sommerville, former Chief & Senior Director of ASPCA Humane Law Enforcement
Timothy Stack, former Special Agent, ASPCA
Vincent Tartaglia, former Law Enforcement Officer, Dutchess County SPCA
The late Capt. Thomas H. White, Criminal Investigations, Animal Rescue League of Boston
Sergeant Timothy Williams, City of Albany Police Department
Ronald Winter, former Special Agent, ASPCA

For input and review of the “Basic Animal Care Standards for Some Common Animals” section, a thank you to:

Holly Cheever, DVM
Lawrence Bartholf, DVM
Tatty M. Hodge, DVM
John Huntley, DVM, NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets

For assistance in analyzing and editing the appropriate content for the case law section of this manual, a thank you to:

Susan Plonski, Esq.

For copy editing, a thank you to:

Jim Guilianelli, Technical Editor, Newburgh

For assistance with computer related problems, a thank you to:

Cambridge Consulting Group, formerly in business in Poughkeepsie, NY

For the countless volunteer hours he has devoted to the extensive rework and reformatting involved in the updating of this manual to produce its current excellent appearance when printed or used in the HTML format, a thank you to:

Thomas G. Byrne

Thanks to the organizations who allowed us to reprint their materials. They are noted by article in Appendix VI, “Articles” section.

Thank You To Sponsors

NYSHA would like to thank the following organizations whose financial support has helped offset some of the costs associated with producing this manual.

Production related organizations:

Digital Design Studio, Kingston, NY
Graphic Spectrums, Inc., Clintondale, NY

Animal welfare organizations:

American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
Animal Protective Foundation of Schenectady
Chautauqua County Humane Society
Chenango County SPCA
Columbia-Greene Humane Society
Erie County SPCA
Hi-Tor Animal Care Center
Humane Society of Rochester and Monroe County
Mohawk and Hudson River Humane Society
Newburgh SPCA
Rockland County SPCA
Saratoga County Animal Welfare League
The Animals’ Agenda
The Fund for Animals
The Humane Society of the United States
Ulster County SPCA

What This Book Is About

The purpose of this manual is to provide law enforcement officers in New York State with sufficient information to investigate animal cruelty complaints. The manual will also be helpful to animal cruelty investigators employed by humane societies.

Contrary to popular belief, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) does not have cruelty investigators available throughout New York State, and most local dog control officers or animal control officers do not have peace officer status that would allow them to make arrests. In addition, very few local SPCAs and other animal protective agencies have the knowledge or funds to investigate animal cruelty.

Thus, the bulk of animal cruelty cases in certain areas will become the responsibility of police who must investigate cruelty complaints as mandated by Section 371 of Article 26 of the Agriculture & Markets Law which states:

“A constable or police officer must, and any agent or officer of any duly incorporated society for the prevention of cruelty to animals may issue an appearance ticket pursuant to section 150.20 of the criminal procedure law; summon or arrest, and bring before a court or magistrate having jurisdiction, any person offending against any of the provisions of article twenty six of the Agriculture & Markets Law. Any officer or agent of any of said societies may lawfully interfere to prevent the perpetration of any act of cruelty upon any animal in his presence. Any of said societies may prefer a complaint before any court, tribunal or magistrate having jurisdiction, for the violation of any law relating to or affecting animals and may aid in presenting the law and facts before such court, tribunal or magistrate in any proceeding taken.” (emphasis added)

We intend for this manual to assist these police officers as much as possible in this difficult and painful task.

In many jurisdictions, given the high volume of criminal cases, animal neglect and abuse cases rank lower on the totem pole; in some cases, they will not be considered serious enough to be pursued by the District Attorney’s office. Thus, the objective of an investigation is to make a case as solid as possible so that its chances of being dealt with are enhanced. Even if the DA’s office decides only to plea bargain, the better the case, the better plea bargain the prosecutors can strike to help the animals involved.

The best way to enhance your chances of successfully investigating animal cruelty and building a solid case is to be prepared beforehand. Thus, before an animal cruelty complaint comes to your attention, review this manual and familiarize yourself with the elements and processes that are important to a successful cruelty investigation.

We sincerely hope that you find this information helpful in your animal cruelty work.

A Note of Caution to Humane Societies Enforcing Article 26

Though the intended audience for this manual is law enforcement personnel, we realize that cruelty investigators may look to it for guidance in some situations.

All cruelty investigators must have peace officer status and whatever training is required by the Division of Criminal Justice Services. For information on accreditation, contact the Office of Public Safety, Law Enforcement Accreditation, 80 So. Swan Street, Albany, NY 12210, or call (518) 485-1417. For information on training, contact the Training Unit at (518) 485-1959.

For further information on the role and responsibilities of peace officers, see section 2.10 and 2.20 of the NYS Criminal Procedure Manual.

How To Use This Book

In this manual, we have attempted to convey to you what we have learned to date about investigating animal cruelty. For maximum benefit, we suggest reading the following sections first:

  1. Being Prepared Ahead of Time
  2. Receiving the Complaint
  3. Investigating the Complaint

Afterward, you will find it worthwhile to review the “Common Complaints” and “Special Cases” sections, and their examples.

  • As you review these sections, refer to the “Various NYS Laws Relating to Animals” section for a further discussion and complete text of the laws.
  • In addition, review the “Animal Care Standards for Some Common Animals” section formulated by several NYS licensed veterinarians who have generously donated their time for this purpose to become aware of the standards of care that are expected for the types of animals mentioned in each case.
  • Review Appendix IV, “Forms & Supplies List” to see the forms that might be used in a case; for example, Veterinarian’s Statement.

Lastly, consider reading the various articles that are included in the “Appendix of Articles” section. We have chosen them because they provide added information on investigating animal cruelty as well as an exploration of the connection between animal abuse and other crimes.

Refer to the “Appendix of Agencies” if you need assistance with a particular case. Once you understand the layout of the manual, you can use it as a reference tool.