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Understand The Animal Welfare Act Correctly

The well-being of nonhuman animals

Understand The Animal Welfare Act Correctly

Most animal protection laws are enforced on the state level. The primary Animal Welfare Act (AWA) is the primary Act that is applied at the federal level. The AWA pertains to issues like commercially bred animals (puppy mills), animals in zoos and aquariums, and animals used for laboratory tests.

The Department of Agriculture enforces the AWA and sets minimum standards for these animals regarding their treatment, care, handling, and transportation. Under this law, cockfighting and dogfighting are prohibited.

There a many other animal welfare acts: the Humane Slaughter Act, the Humane Methods of Livestock Slaughter Act, the Endangered Species Act, the PACT (Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture) Act, and the Lacey Act. This won’t be a detailed guide since there are also so many state-level animal protection laws. We’ll provide you with an overview of the types of animal protection laws you’ll come across at the state level.

Animal protection laws primarily concern companion animals (like cats, dogs, horses, birds, and other animals). Some laws involve wildlife protection. Each state determines what represents cruelty, including the penalties for people committing such cruelties.

Companion Animals

Companion animals have the strictest level of protection under the state’s laws. There have also been cases where people have been prosecuted for committing cruelty towards farm animals, marine animals, and wildlife. 

These laws comprise how animals should be cared for. For instance, some laws state how long stray animals should be held before they can be euthanized or adopted. Laws also revolve around how often pets must be vaccinated against rabies. Commercial breeding laws also fall under these statutes.

Other laws specifically criminalize people who keep their animals in hot cars. It allows for these animals to be rescued from cars in certain situations, making rescuers immune from prosecution. Laws concerning ‘anti-tethering’ are growing in popularity. These laws refer to how long an animal can be chained outside, especially in extreme weather conditions. If required, you can now place pets under protection orders where domestic violence occurs.

The state of California is the leading state when it comes to animal protection laws. In 2017, the state became the first to pass a retail pet sale ban. Under this law, retailers like pet stores may only sell animals from animal shelters (and not from commercial breeders). Maryland followed suit and placed a ban on retail sales of pets in 2018.

Farm Animals

Several US states have put measures in place to limit the intensive confinement of farm animals. These laws center around prohibiting farmers from keeping farm animals in confined restraints. In extreme cases, these animals don’t have enough space to move around or even stand straight. For instance, chickens in mass commercial farming have been kept in battery cages where they can’t move around or spread their wings.


Every state has protection laws on wildlife, including laws concerning hunting and fishing. These laws cover how people can kill these animals, including when they may do so. In 2017, New York and Illinois passed performance bans on the use of elephants in entertainment. 

Final Thoughts

A growing number of states are following the example of California, Maryland, New York, and Illinois. State animal protection laws are fundamental as they reflect our humanity as a society. You can start your petition at the county level to make a change. State laws on animal protection typically start at the city or county level. This created awareness, leading to an increasing number of people demanding it is taken to state-level legislators.




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