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State Cruelty Laws Concerning Research Animals

While most state anti-cruelty laws exempt animals used in laboratories, there are a few provisions that specifically limit this exemption to when these animals are on a research protocol, not when they are merely being housed in a breeding, testing or research facility.

Historically, laboratory research, agricultural practices and hunting have been specifically exempt from animal anti-cruelty provisions in state and local laws. There have been additional exemptions given for animal trainers, veterinarians, protection of property and self, and others.

The exemption for animals used for laboratory research has been fairly comprehensive, frustrating efforts to punish animal abuse and neglect within laboratory settings, even when the animals were being harmed outside of any research protocol. However, some states have crafted a special exception that would, under certain circumstances, allow for criminal prosecution for cruelty in the care and handling of animals kept at research institutions, but only when this cruelty occurs outside of the research arena.

Unfortunately, there have been few successful prosecutions under these statutes, in large part because law enforcement entities are reluctant to charge violators in a laboratory with an offense and prosecutors are even more reluctant to take on cases against people at institutions that are exempt from these law. With the critical help of whistleblowers and community activists who know of individual acts of cruelty and the help of individuals who are able to document this abuse, this culture of acceptance may change.

However, even in the case of egregious abuse, no charges can be brought unless the state allows a criminal suit to be brought at a federally-licensed research institution.

Below are state laws that can be used to bring charges against individuals who abuse or neglect animals in a research facility, provided the abuse is not part of a sanctioned research protocol.

For a complete listing of these laws, go to the Animal Law Resource Center.

Chart - State Cruelty Laws