Animal Cruelty Law

This post is an overview of the animal cruelty law for animals in a person’s care. MCL 750.50. There is a separate law outlawing hurting an animal in general (MCL 750.50b).

What is Against Law in the Animal Cruelty Law

An owner, possessor, or person having the charge or custody of an animal shall not do any of the following:

a. Fail to provide the animal with adequate care.

b. Cruelly drive, work, or beat an animal, or cause an animal to be cruelly driven, worked, or beaten.

c. Cannot transport in a vehicle a live animal whose feet or legs are tied together (except for medical reasons or a horse whose legs are hobbled together to protect the horse). Cannot transport any animal in  vehicle in a cruel or inhumane manner.

d. Cannot transport a live animal in a vehicle without providing a secure space rack, crate, or cage, in which livestock may stand, and in which all other animals may stand, turn around, lie down during transportation, or while awaiting slaughter. For the purposes of sled dogs, ‘stand’ means sufficient vertical distance to allow the animal to stand without its shoulders touching the top of the crate or transportation vehicle.

e. Cannot abandon an animal without making provisions for adequate care, unless premises are vacated for the protection of human life or prevention of injury to humans. An Animal that is lost by an owner or custodian while traveling, walking, hiking, or hunting, is not abandoned when the owner has made reasonable effort to locate the animal.

f. Negligently allow an animal, including an animal who is aged, diseased, maimed, hopelessly sick, disabled, or nonambulatory to suffer unnecessary neglect, torture, or pain.

g. Tether a dog unless the tether is at least 3 times the length of the dog as measured from the tip of its nose to the base of its tail and is attached to a harness or nonchoke collar designed for tethering.


A person who violates this law involving 1 animal is guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by;

  • 93 days in jail
  • $1,000.00 fine
  • 200 hours community service

A person who violates this law involving 2 or 3 animals, or the death of any animal, is guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by;

  • 1 year in jail
  • $2,000.00 fine
  • 300 hours community service

A person who violates this law involving 4 to 10 animals, or the person had a prior conviction under this law, is guilty of a felony, punishable by;

  • 2 years in prison
  • $2,000.00 fine
  • 300 hours of community service
  • Pay costs of prosecution

A person who violates this law involving 10 or more animals, or the person has 2 or more prior convictions under this law, is guilty of a felony, punishable by;

  • 4 years in prison
  • $5,000.00 fine
  • 500 hours of community serivce

Special Terms of Punishment and Probation for this Animal Cruelty Law

A court may order psychological or psychiatric assessment and necessary treatment at defendant’s expense.

Any term of imprisonment may be ordered consecutively with any other term of imprisonment for a conviction arising out of the same offense.

The defendant may be ordered to pay all costs for care, housing, and veterinary medical care for animal as needed. If the court does not order the defendant to pay all costs or only partial costs, then the court must state on the record its reasons for doing so.

As part of probation, the court can order the defendant to not own or possess any animal for a period of time not exceeding probation. Upon a second conviction, the court can order the defendant to now own or possess any animal for any period of time or order the defendant to relinquish lifetime rights to owning an animal.

A person who owns an animal when ordered not to by the court under this law can be subject to probation revocation. A person may also be subject to the civil and criminal contempt power of the court, and if found guilty of contempt could be punished by incarceration for up to 90 days in jail, a $500 fine, or both. The power of the court to find people in contempt is how the court maintains its jurisdiction over a defendant after probation ends.

What Happens to the Defendant’s Animal When the Case Begins?

Once the case begins the prosecutor can bring a civil forfeiture proceeding to take the animal away. The prosecutor can schedule a hearing to be held within 14 days of filing for the hearing. The hearing will be in front of a judge without a jury. The prosecutor must prove a violation of this law or of MCL 750.50b by a preponderance of the evidence to meet the burden. If the prosecutor meets this burden then the judge can order forfeiture of the animal to an animal shelter or similar group.

The defendant has 72 hours from the date of forfeiture to pay a bond to the court for the animal. The bond shall go to care of the animal. The court may order further reasonable costs of care for the animal in addition to that bond already posted.

Presumably, the payment of bond will allow the person to get the animal back if the case resolves favorably, though the law does not specifically state that. Along that same note, you can assume that upon conviction the court will order permanent forfeiture of the animal, without compelling circumstances taken by the defendant to prove to the court why it should not order forfeiture.

Read the exact Language of MCL 750.50(3) regarding forfeiture of the animal through this link.

What This Law Does Not Apply To

This law doesn’t apply to all actions, those actions include;

Hunting, fishing, trapping, wildlife regulation under the natural resources and environmental protection act, horse racing, the operation of a zoo or aquarium, pest or rodent control, farming or generally accepted animal husbandry or farming practice involving livestock, scientific research, certain veterinary and certain farming practices further defined in other laws.

Definitions in the Law

It’s important for the legislature to define the language it uses in the law so we all know what we’re talking about. Here are the following definitions contained within the law.

  1. Adequate care – Provision of sufficient food, water, shelter, sanitary conditions, exercise, and veterinary medical attention in order to maintain an animal in a state of good health.
  2. Animal – Any vertebrate other than a human being.
  3. Animal protection shelter – A facility operated by a person, humane society, society for the prevention of cruelty to animals, or any other nonprofit organization, for the care of homeless animals.
  4. Animal control shelter – A facility operated by a county, city, village, or township to impound and care for animals found in streets or otherwise at large contrary to any ordinance of the county, city, village, or township or state law.
  5. Licensed veterinarian –  A person licensed to practice veterinary medicine under the public health code.
  6. Livestock – Defined elsewhere in the law specifically the Animal Industry Act of 1987.
  7. Person – An individual, partnership, limited liability company, corporation, association, governmental entity, or other legal entity.
  8. Neglect – Failure to sufficiently and properly care for an animal to the extent that the animal’s health is jeopardized.
  9. Sanitary conditions – Space free from health hazards including excessive animal waste, overcrowding of animals, or other conditions that endanger the animal’s health. This definition does not include any condition resulting from a customary and reasonable practice pursuant to animal husbandry or farming.
  10. Shelter – Adequate protection from the elements and weather conditions suitable for the age, species, and physical condition of the animal so as to maintain the animal in a state of good health. Shelter for livestock includes structures or natural features such as topography or trees. Shelter for a dog includes 1 of the following;
    1. The residence of the dog’s owner or other individual.
    2. A doghouse that is an enclosed structure with a roof and of appropriate dimensions for the breed and size of the dog. The doghouse shall have dry bedding when the outdoor temperature is or is predicted to drop below freezing.
    3. A structure, including a garage, barn, or shed, that is sufficiently insulated
  11. State of good health – Freedom from disease and illness, and in a condition of proper body weight and temperature for the age and species of the animal, unless the animal is undergoing appropriate treatment.
  12. Tethering – The restraint and confinement of a dog by use of a rope, chain, or similar device.
  13. Water – Potable water that is suitable for the species and age of animals that is made regularly available unless otherwise directed by a licensed veterinarian.

Contact Us

Call Sam Bernstein at 734-883-9584 or e-mail at

Sam Bernstein is a Washtenaw County Defense Lawyer.

ArborYpsi Law is located at 2750 Carpenter Rd #2, Ann Arbor, MI 48108.

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