Size Criteria For Animal Cruelty Laws?

This question was actually inspired by a news story from a while back. This man, who was the true definition of an @sshole incarnate, killed a little mouse on Facebook with a mini taser. As I said, I have no sympathy for the creep. But I always assumed killing a mouse, whatever way, was legal. Isn’t it?

I know my family and I have killed our share of mice, with a mousetrap or two (‘quick, efficient and humane’, right?). My mother had an interesting discussion with her sister once. We had mice or rats. And we were going to leave out warfarin rat bait. But that is a horrible way for any creature to die (they were both animal lovers).

I don’t know a boy who didn’t fry at least one ant or two with a magnifying glass (admit it, you did it too :wink: ). I know in my neighborhood, our rule of thumb was didn’t kill anything bigger than a worm. Your neighborhood was similar I assume.

So what is the size criteria for animal cruelty? Why can you fry ants but not mice? And if you can’t electrocute mice, why can you kill much bigger rats with warfarin?


I don’t know the answer to your question. But I have always suspected that the law takes a dim view of anyone who appears to be getting enjoyment or pleasure from killing animals. And rightly so, IMO.

Puts the exterminator who enjoys their job in a bad spot, though.

It’s not necessarily a size criterion. Lobsters are bigger than mice, but nobody cares what you do to lobsters.

@Chronos Actually you bring up an interesting point, the apparent ambiguity of it all. As I already said, you can’t legally shock mice to death for fun on YouTube. Yet it’s okay if they suffer a much worse death by way of warfarin, if you’re just trying to ‘exterminate’ them.

Your example, boiling lobsters alive for food, further illustrates this point. Though ironically to this day, I still wonder how they would legally categorize the SNL Larry the Lobster fiasco. Thoughts on that too? (And read the whole article too. Larry was allegedly spared that one night. But Eddie Murphy claimed to have boiled him the next week.)

I again remind everyone I want legal information. This is not a moral debate. :slight_smile:

EDIT: Then again maybe this would do better in Great Debates. It is turning into one, I now see. And people could give more input that way too. :slight_smile:

I don’t think it’s a size issue, at least not primarily. I think the dividing line is based on class. The biological kind not the socio-economic one.

I feel the consensus is that mammals have the most rights. Then birds. After that, reptiles and amphibians are pretty far down. Fish are even farther. Insects, crustaceans, and other invertebrates have about the same rights as plants or fungi.


Factual answers do exist for what the laws state (though of course they’ll vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction). I’d prefer to leave this in GQ long enough to get those factual answers.

I’ve always said that if it squeals, the law is on it side, if not who cares.

Actually living fish cannot be sold in Finland unless they are swimming around. All those that are displayed on bed of Ice must have been killed. No more poking around and see if they twitch.

Killing an animal itself is not cruelty to animals. It is how you do it but like someone said killing rodents with poison that causes painfull deaths seems still be ok. The problem with that is that they crawl into small spaces to die and can cause problems. Traps are better opinion and in certain juricdictions they must not kill. The killing is done after the critters are caught.

This is a wild generalization as obviously it varies from country to country, but after working in international dog rescue and doing some research into why assholes are such sadists, what I’ve learned is that animal cruelty laws don’t go by the size of the animal. They go more by the animal’s purpose. Species recognized as most often being household pets tend to have more protections than species recognized as farm animals, and those have more protections than wild animals (with exceptions for those identified as endangered, of course).

So, for example, in Spain breeds like galgos and podencos which are used for hunting are legally seen as being in the farm/sporting legal category and have next to zero protections. You can beat or starve them as you see fit, and kill them when they’re no longer useful to you. (This is slowly changing as rescue organizations bring pressure to the Spanish government and work on cultural changes.)

But it’s super complicated. Even in the USA, even though lots of people have pet rats which fall into the household pet category with pet protections, there are of course millions of rats used in laboratories and only fall under the “animals used in industry” protections.

And over arching everything I just mentioned, in general all animals are seen as property. If you kill my dog, which I consider a beloved family member, and I sue you, the best I can likely get is enough money to buy another dog.

I was going to say something like this. Except to add that animals usually seen as “vermin” have even less protection. Maybe the law has since changed, but back when i worked in a lab with mice, my understanding was that one if the reasons we used mice was that there were very few regulations regarding how we treated the mice.

My mice were treated the same as you’d treat a pet, up until right before i killed them. And we tried to do the actual killing humanely, as well. But life is simpler if you don’t have a lot of rules and documentation thereof.

Also, with regard to killing them, I’ve recently learned that wild animals are separated into “game” and other, and there are a lot more rules around killing game animals. So, the squirrels in my yard are game animals, and the chipmunks aren’t. That makes it legal to trap the chipmunks with rat traps, but i can only kill squirrels in season, or when they are in the act of destroying my property.

And of course, in a lab, you probably didn’t have to comply with just the laws imposed by the government, but also probably with internal policies set by some sort of ethics board, which were probably stricter than the government’s laws. But which might still have had less restrictions for mice than for, say, rabbits.

As @Chronos said, animal cruelty laws do vary by state and jurisdiction. Here’s one source of info.
These laws seem to typically include a definition of “animal” that is fairly wide but at least sometimes specifies just vertebrates, or warm-blooded animals, or something like that.

Here is a snippet from my state’s law:

A person who intentionally tortures, or mutilates or maliciously kills an animal, or causes, procures or authorizes any other person to torture, mutilate or maliciously kill an animal, is guilty of a felony

This is probably a pretty common law and the phrase “maliciously” does a lot of work. So if I kill a mouse in a mousetrap, I am not killing the mouse out of malice but to keep a sanitary home. If I kill it with a taser and videotape it, then it seems that I am doing it out of malice.

Recall that cruelty was epitomized by the phrase, “He pulls wings off flies.” Obviously no one (with the exception of a Jain) will mind if you kill flies; only if you torture them.

When I had to kill animals in a lab, I had two ways. For rats or guinea pigs, I bashed their brains by smashing them upside down against the edge of a stone sink. For mice, I grabbed the head in one hand, the tail in the other and pulled hard. Once I found a mouse in a trap that had not been killed and I used the same method.

What the hell were you studying that ripping a mouse in half was the accepted way of killing them? Seems like more often than not you’d end up pulling off their tail. That’s fucked up.

Spoilered a discussion of killing mice in a lab.

The goal isn’t to rip the mouse apart but to snap its spine. I had friends who had to kill mice that way. I’m told that kills them pretty much instantly.

I was lucky, someone had previously done research showing that the metabolic pathway I was studying was not affected by ether. So I etherized my mice and then killed them with a little rodent guillotine.

The funny thing is that that’s probably less horrible for the mouse than a glue trap. But a glue trap doesn’t suggest that you are a sadistic monster, just that you want to rid your kitchen of mice.

(Having once seen a mouse stuck in a glue trap, i can’t use the things. God, that was horrible.)

In the interests of controlling vermin which are a bane to human populations I am guessing there is less interest in anti-cruelty laws. We need to kill them and kill them in massive numbers. Hard to remain nice about it. (see: Australia’s mouse plague this year)

Although I wonder if a person was being especially cruel (read sadistic) to killing something like mice if they could not get in trouble?

But then labs torture all sorts of animals in the name of science on a regular basis.

I dunno…hard to square this one.

In the UK, you have to tell the police if you accidentally kill a specific class of animal. You will note that they are all ‘working’ animals, not pets.

The Road Traffic Act 1988 states that legally, you must report hitting the following animals to the police:

  • dogs.
  • horses.
  • cattle, e.g cows.
  • pigs.
  • goats.
  • sheep.
  • donkeys and mules.

Of course, this has nothing to do with deliberate cruelty where each offence would be judged on its merits.

All the usual suspects have long since been outlawed: Bear baiting, cockfights, rat/badger baiting, and fox hunting. In general, killing any animal in the name of sport or entertainment is likely to get you into trouble unless it’s specifically permitted, like pheasant shooting after 12th August, fishing etc.

That looks to me like a list of “animals likely to have a significant monetary value”, and the reason you need to report hitting them is so that monetary recompense can be made to the owner. Note that, in places where horses, pigs, and sheep are likely to be found, cats are likely to be “working animals”, too… but it’s no big deal if a barn cat gets killed accidentally, because barn cats are cheap.