University of Vermont AAHS

Washington Cruelty to Animals Statutes


6.52.011. Definitions--Principles of liability

(1) Principles of liability as defined in chapter 9A.08 RCW apply to this chapter.

(2) Unless the context clearly requires otherwise, the definitions in this section apply throughout this chapter.

(a) "Animal" means any nonhuman mammal, bird, reptile, or amphibian.

(b) "Animal care and control agency" means any city or county animal control agency or authority authorized to enforce city or county municipal ordinances regulating the care, control, licensing, or treatment of animals within the city or county, and any corporation organized under RCW 16.52.020 that contracts with a city or county to enforce the city or county ordinances governing animal care and control.

(c) "Animal control officer" means any individual employed, contracted, or appointed pursuant to RCW 16.52.025 by an animal care and control agency or humane society to aid in the enforcement of ordinances or laws regulating the care and control of animals. For purposes of this chapter, the term "animal control officer" shall be interpreted to include "humane officer" as defined in (e) of this subsection and RCW 16.52.025.

(d) "Euthanasia" means the humane destruction of an animal accomplished by a method that involves instantaneous unconsciousness and immediate death, or by a method that causes painless loss of consciousness, and death during the loss of consciousness.

(e) "Humane officer" means any individual employed, contracted, or appointed by an animal care and control agency or humane society as authorized under RCW 16.52.025.

(f) "Law enforcement agency" means a general authority Washington law enforcement agency as defined in RCW 10.93.020.

(g) "Necessary food" means the provision at suitable intervals of wholesome foodstuff suitable for the animal's age and species and sufficient to provide a reasonable level of nutrition for the animal.

(h) "Owner" means a person who has a right, claim, title, legal share, or right of possession to an animal or a person having lawful control, custody, or possession of an animal.

(i) "Person" means individuals, corporations, partnerships, associations, or other legal entities, and agents of those entities.

(j) "Substantial bodily harm" means substantial bodily harm as defined in RCW 9A.04.110.

6.52.015. Enforcement--Law enforcement agencies and animal care and control agencies

(1) Law enforcement agencies and animal care and control agencies may enforce the provisions of this chapter. Animal care and control agencies may enforce the provisions of this chapter in a county or city only if the county or city legislative authority has entered into a contract with the agency to enforce the provisions of this chapter.

(2) Animal control officers enforcing this chapter shall comply with the same constitutional and statutory restrictions concerning the execution of police powers imposed on law enforcement officers who enforce this chapter and other criminal laws of the state of Washington.

(3) Animal control officers have the following enforcement powers when enforcing this chapter:

(a) The power to issue citations based on probable cause to offenders for misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor violations of this chapter or RCW 9.08.070 or 81.56.120;

(b) The power to cause a law enforcement officer to arrest and take into custody any person the animal control officer has probable cause to believe has committed or is committing a violation of this chapter or RCW 9.08.070 or 81.56.120. Animal control officers may make an oral complaint to a prosecuting attorney or a law enforcement officer to initiate arrest. The animal control officer causing the arrest shall file with the arresting agency a written complaint within twenty-four hours of the arrest, excluding Sundays and legal holidays, stating the alleged act or acts constituting a violation;

(c) The power to carry nonfirearm protective devices for personal protection;

(d) The power to prepare affidavits in support of search warrants and to execute search warrants when accompanied by law enforcement officers to investigate violations of this chapter or RCW 9.08.070 or 81.56.120, and to seize evidence of those violations.

(4) Upon request of an animal control officer who has probable cause to believe that a person has violated this chapter or RCW 9.08.070 or 81.56.120, a law enforcement agency officer may arrest the alleged offender.

6.52.020. Humane societies--Enforcement authority

Any citizens of the state of Washington incorporated under the laws of this state as a humane society or as a society for the prevention of cruelty to animals may enforce the provisions of this chapter through its animal control officers subject to the limitations in RCW 16.52.015 and 16.52.025. The legislative authority in each county may grant exclusive authority to exercise the privileges and authority granted by this section to one or more qualified corporations for a period of up to three years based upon ability to fulfill the purposes of this chapter.

6.52.025. Humane societies--Animal control officers

Trustees of humane societies incorporated pursuant to RCW 16.52.020 may appoint society members to act as animal control officers. The trustee appointments shall be in writing. The appointment shall be effective in a particular county only if an appointee obtains written authorization from the superior court of the county in which the appointee seeks to enforce this chapter. To obtain judicial authorization, an appointee seeking judicial authorization on or after June 9, 1994, shall provide evidence satisfactory to the judge that the appointee has successfully completed training which has prepared the appointee to assume the powers granted to animal control officers pursuant to RCW 16.52.015. The trustees shall review appointments every three years and may revoke an appointment at any time by filing a certified revocation with the superior court that approved the appointment. Authorizations shall not exceed three years or trustee termination, whichever occurs first. To qualify for reappointment when a term expires on or after June 9, 1994, the officer shall obtain training or satisfy the court that the officer has sufficient experience to exercise the powers granted to animal control officers pursuant to RCW 16.52.015.

16.52.080. Transporting or confining in unsafe manner--Penalty

Any person who wilfully transports or confines or causes to be transported or confined any domestic animal or animals in a manner, posture or confinement that will jeopardize the safety of the animal or the public shall be guilty of a misdemeanor. And whenever any such person shall be taken into custody or be subject to arrest pursuant to a valid warrant therefor by any officer or authorized person, such officer or person may take charge of the animal or animals; and any necessary expense thereof shall be a lien thereon to be paid before the animal or animals may be recovered; and if the expense is not paid, it may be recovered from the owner of the animal or the person guilty.

16.52.085. Removal of animals for feeding--Examination--Notice--Euthanasia

(1) If a law enforcement officer or animal control officer has probable cause to believe that an owner of a domestic animal has violated this chapter and no responsible person can be found to assume the animal's care, the officer may authorize, with a warrant, the removal of the animal to a suitable place for feeding and care, or may place the animal under the custody of an animal care and control agency. In determining what is a suitable place, the officer shall consider the animal's needs, including its size and behavioral characteristics. An officer may remove an animal under this subsection without a warrant only if the animal is in an immediate life-threatening condition.

(2) If a law enforcement officer or an animal control officer has probable cause to believe a violation of this chapter has occurred, the officer may authorize an examination of a domestic animal allegedly neglected or abused in violation of this chapter by a veterinarian to determine whether the level of neglect or abuse in violation of this chapter is sufficient to require removal of the animal. This section does not condone illegal entry onto private property.

(3) Any owner whose domestic animal is removed pursuant to this chapter shall be given written notice of the circumstances of the removal and notice of legal remedies available to the owner. The notice shall be given by posting at the place of seizure, by delivery to a person residing at the place of seizure, or by registered mail if the owner is known. In making the decision to remove an animal pursuant to this chapter, the officer shall make a good faith effort to contact the animal's owner before removal.

(4) The agency having custody of the animal may euthanize the animal or may find a responsible person to adopt the animal not less than fifteen business days after the animal is taken into custody. A custodial agency may euthanize severely injured, diseased, or suffering animals at any time. An owner may prevent the animal's destruction or adoption by: (a) Petitioning the district court of the county where the animal was seized for the animal's immediate return subject to court-imposed conditions, or (b) posting a bond or security in an amount sufficient to provide for the animal's care for a minimum of thirty days from the seizure date. If the custodial agency still has custody of the animal when the bond or security expires, the animal shall become the agency's property unless the court orders an alternative disposition. If a court order prevents the agency from assuming ownership and the agency continues to care for the animal, the court shall order the owner to renew a bond or security for the agency's continuing costs for the animal's care.

(5) If no criminal case is filed within fourteen business days of the animal's removal, the owner may petition the district court of the county where the animal was removed for the animal's return. The petition shall be filed with the court, with copies served to the law enforcement or animal care and control agency responsible for removing the animal and to the prosecuting attorney. If the court grants the petition, the agency which seized the animal must deliver the animal to the owner at no cost to the owner. If a criminal action is filed after the petition is filed but before the animal is returned, the petition shall be joined with the criminal matter.

(6) In a motion or petition for the animal's return before a trial, the burden is on the owner to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the animal will not suffer future neglect or abuse and is not in need of being restored to health.

(7) Any authorized person treating or attempting to restore an animal to health under this chapter shall not be civilly or criminally liable for such action.

16.52.090. Docking horses--Misdemeanor

Every person who shall cut or cause to be cut, or assist in cutting the solid part of the tail of any horse in the operation known as "docking," or in any other operation for the purpose of shortening the tail or changing the carriage thereof, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.

16.52.100. Confinement without food and water--Intervention by others

If any domestic animal is impounded or confined without necessary food and water for more than thirty-six consecutive hours, any person may, from time to time, as is necessary, enter into and open any pound or place of confinement in which any domestic animal is confined, and supply it with necessary food and water so long as it is confined. The person shall not be liable to action for the entry, and may collect from the animal's owner the reasonable cost of the food and water. The animal shall be subject to attachment for the costs and shall not be exempt from levy and sale upon execution issued upon a judgment. If an investigating officer finds it extremely difficult to supply confined animals with food and water, the officer may remove the animals to protective custody for that purpose.

16.52.110. Old or diseased animals at large

Every owner, driver, or possessor of any old, maimed or diseased horse, cow, mule, or other domestic animal, who shall permit the same to go loose in any lane, street, square, or lot or place of any city or township, without proper care and attention, for more than three hours after knowledge thereof, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor: Provided, That this shall not apply to any such owner keeping any old or diseased animal belonging to him on his own premises with proper care. Every sick, disabled, infirm or crippled horse, ox, mule, cow or other domestic animal, which shall be abandoned on the public highway, or in any open or enclosed space in any city or township, may, if, after search by a peace officer or officer of such society no owner can be found therefor, be killed by such officer; and it shall be the duty of all peace and public officers to cause the same to be killed on information of such abandonment.

16.52.165. Punishment--Conviction of misdemeanor

Every person convicted of any misdemeanor under RCW 16.52.080 or 16.52.090 shall be punished by a fine of not exceeding one hundred and fifty dollars, or by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding sixty days, or both such fine and imprisonment, and shall pay the costs of the prosecution.

16.52.180. Limitations on application of chapter

No part of this chapter shall be deemed to interfere with any of the laws of this state known as the "game laws," nor be deemed to interfere with the right to destroy any venomous reptile or any known as dangerous to life, limb or property, or to interfere with the right to kill animals to be used for food or with any properly conducted scientific experiments or investigations, which experiments or investigations shall be performed only under the authority of the faculty of some regularly incorporated college or university of the state of Washington or a research facility registered with the United States department of agriculture and regulated by 7 U.S.C. Sec. 2131 et seq.

16.52.185. Exclusions from chapter

Nothing in this chapter applies to accepted husbandry practices used in the commercial raising or slaughtering of livestock or poultry, or products thereof or to the use of animals in the normal and usual course of rodeo events or to the customary use or exhibiting of animals in normal and usual events at fairs as defined in RCW 15.76.120.

16.52.190. Poisoning animals

(1) Except as provided in subsections (2) and (3) of this section, a person is guilty of the crime of poisoning animals if the person intentionally or knowingly poisons an animal under circumstances which do not constitute animal cruelty in the first degree.

(2) Subsection (1) of this section shall not apply to euthanizing by poison an animal in a lawful and humane manner by the animal's owner, or by a duly authorized servant or agent of the owner, or by a person acting pursuant to instructions from a duly constituted public authority.

(3) Subsection (1) of this section shall not apply to the reasonable use of rodent or pest poison, insecticides, fungicides, or slug bait for their intended purposes. As used in this section, the term "rodent" includes but is not limited to Columbia ground squirrels, other ground squirrels, rats, mice, gophers, rabbits, and any other rodent designated as injurious to the agricultural interests of the state as provided in chapter 17.16 RCW. The term "pest" as used in this section includes any pest as defined in RCW 17.21.020.

16.52.193. Poisoning animals--Strychnine sales--Records--Report on suspected purchases

It shall be unlawful for any person other than a registered pharmacist to sell at retail or furnish to any person any strychnine: Provided, That nothing herein shall prohibit county, state or federal agents, in the course of their duties, from furnishing strychnine to any person. Every such registered pharmacist selling or furnishing such strychnine shall, before delivering the same, record the transaction as provided in RCW 69.38.030. If any such registered pharmacist shall suspect that any person desiring to purchase strychnine intends to use the same for the purpose of poisoning unlawfully any domestic animal or domestic bird, he may refuse to sell to such person, but whether or not he makes such sale, he shall if he so suspects an intention to use the strychnine unlawfully, immediately notify the nearest peace officer, giving such officer a complete description of the person purchasing, or attempting to purchase, such strychnine.

16.52.195. Poisoning animals--Penalty

Any person violating any of the provisions of RCW 16.52.190 or 16.52.193 shall be guilty of a gross misdemeanor.

16.52.200. Sentences--Forfeiture of animals--Liability for costs--Civil penalty--Education, counseling

(1) The sentence imposed for a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor violation of this chapter may be deferred or suspended in accordance with RCW 3.66.067 and 3.66.068, however the probationary period shall be two years.

(2) In case of multiple misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor convictions, the sentences shall be consecutive, however the probationary period shall remain two years.

(3) In addition to the penalties imposed by the court, the court shall order the forfeiture of all animals held by law enforcement or animal care and control authorities under the provisions of this chapter if any one of the animals involved dies as a result of a violation of this chapter or if the defendant has a prior conviction under this chapter. In other cases the court may enter an order requiring the owner to forfeit the animal if the court deems the animal's treatment to have been severe and likely to reoccur. If forfeiture is ordered, the owner shall be prohibited from owning or caring for any similar animals for a period of two years. The court may delay its decision on forfeiture under this subsection until the end of the probationary period.

(4) In addition to fines and court costs, the defendant, only if convicted or in agreement, shall be liable for reasonable costs incurred pursuant to this chapter by law enforcement agencies, animal care and control agencies, or authorized private or public entities involved with the care of the animals. Reasonable costs include expenses of the investigation, and the animal's care, euthanization, or adoption.

(5) If convicted, the defendant shall also pay a civil penalty of one thousand dollars to the county to prevent cruelty to animals. These funds shall be used to prosecute offenses under this chapter and to care for forfeited animals pending trial.

(6) As a condition of the sentence imposed under this chapter or RCW 9.08.070, the court may also order the defendant to participate in an available animal cruelty prevention or education program or obtain available psychological counseling to treat mental health problems contributing to the violation's commission. The defendant shall bear the costs of the program or treatment.

16.52.205. Animal cruelty in the first degree

(1) A person is guilty of animal cruelty in the first degree when, except as authorized in law, he or she intentionally (a) inflicts substantial pain on, (b) causes physical injury to, or (c) kills an animal by a means causing undue suffering, or forces a minor to inflict unnecessary pain, injury, or death on an animal.

(2) Animal cruelty in the first degree is a class C felony.

16.52.207. Animal cruelty in the second degree

(1) A person is guilty of animal cruelty in the second degree if, under circumstances not amounting to first degree animal cruelty, the person knowingly, recklessly, or with criminal negligence inflicts unnecessary suffering or pain upon an animal.

(2) An owner of an animal is guilty of animal cruelty in the second degree if, under circumstances not amounting to first degree animal cruelty, the owner knowingly, recklessly, or with criminal negligence:

(a) Fails to provide the animal with necessary food, water, shelter, rest, sanitation, ventilation, space, or medical attention and the animal suffers unnecessary or unjustifiable physical pain as a result of the failure; or

(b) Abandons the animal.

(3) Animal cruelty in the second degree is a misdemeanor.

(4) In any prosecution of animal cruelty in the second degree, it shall be an affirmative defense, if established by the defendant by a preponderance of the evidence, that the defendant's failure was due to economic distress beyond the defendant's control.

16.52.210. Destruction of animal by law enforcement officer--Immunity from liability

This chapter shall not limit the right of a law enforcement officer to destroy an animal that has been seriously injured and would otherwise continue to suffer. Such action shall be undertaken with reasonable prudence and, whenever possible, in consultation with a licensed veterinarian and the owner of the animal.

Law enforcement officers and licensed veterinarians shall be immune from civil and criminal liability for actions taken under this chapter if reasonable prudence is exercised in carrying out the provisions of this chapter.

16.52.220. Transfers of mammals for research--Certification requirements-- Pet animals

(1) All transfers of mammals, other than rats and mice bred for use in research and livestock, to research institutions in this state, whether by sale or otherwise, shall conform with federal laws and, except as to those animals obtained from a source outside the United States, shall be accompanied by one of the following written certifications, dated and signed under penalty of perjury:

(a) Breeder certification: A written statement certifying that the person signing the certification is a United States department of agriculture-licensed class A dealer whose business license in the state of Washington includes only those animals that the dealer breeds and raises as a closed or stable colony and those animals that the dealer acquires for the sole purpose of maintaining or enhancing the dealer's breeding colony, that the animal being sold is one of those animals, and that the person signing the certification is authorized to do so. The certification shall also include an identifying number for the dealer, such as a business license number.

(b) True owner certification: A written statement certifying that the animal being transferred is owned by the person signing the certification, and that the person signing the certification either (i) has no personal knowledge or reason to believe that the animal is a pet animal, or (ii) consents to having the animal used for research at a research institution. The certification shall also state the date that the owner obtained the animal, and the person or other source from whom it was obtained. The certification shall also include an identifying number for the person signing the certification, such as a drivers' license number or business license number. The certifications signed by or on behalf of a humane society, animal control agency, or animal shelter need not contain a statement that the society, agency, or shelter owns the animal, but shall state that the animal has been in the possession of the society, agency, or shelter for the minimum period required by law that entitles it to legally dispose of the animal.

(2) In addition to the foregoing certification, all research institutions in this state shall open at the time a dog or cat is transferred to it a file that contains the following information for each dog or cat transferred to the institution:

(a) All information required by federal law;

(b) The certification required by this section; and

(c) A brief description of the dog or cat (e.g. breed, color, sex, any identifying characteristics), and a photograph of the dog or cat.

The brief description may be contained in the written certification. These files shall be maintained and open for public inspection for a period of at least two years from the date of acquisition of the animal.

(3) All research institutions in this state shall, within one hundred eighty days of May 12, 1989, adopt and operate under written policies governing the acquisition of animals to be used in biomedical or product research at that institution. The written policies shall be binding on all employees, agents, or contractors of the institution. These policies must contain, at a minimum, the following provisions:

(a) Animals shall be acquired in accordance with the federal animal welfare act, public health service policy, and other applicable statutes and regulations;

(b) No research may be conducted on a pet animal without the written permission of the pet animal's owner;

(c) Any animal acquired by the institution that is determined to be a pet animal shall be returned to its legal owner, unless the institution has the owner's written permission to retain the animal; and

(d) A person at the institution shall be designated to have the responsibility for investigating any facts supporting the possibility that an animal in the institution's possession may be a pet animal, including any inquiries from citizens regarding their pets. This person shall devise and insure implementation of procedures to inform inquiring citizens of their right to prompt review of the relevant files required to be kept by the institution for animals obtained under subsection (2) of this section, and shall be responsible for facilitating the rapid return of any animal determined to be a pet animal to the legal owner who has not given the institution permission to have the animal or transferred ownership of it to the institution.

(4) For the purposes of this section, "research institution" means any facility licensed by the United States department of agriculture to use animals in biomedical or product research.

16.52.230. Remedies not impaired

No provision of RCW 9.08.070 or 16.52.220 shall in any way interfere with or impair the operation of any other provision of this chapter or Title 28B RCW, relating to higher education or biomedical research. The provisions of RCW 9.08.070 and 16.52.220 are cumulative and nonexclusive and shall not affect any other remedy.

Reviewed by AAHS in September 2001.

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