Rhode Island SPCA

We speak for those who cannot speak for themselves

What is Animal Cruelty?

Animal cruelty can take many forms, but at its most basic it is: Deprivation of adequate food, water, shelter, ventilation, space, care or veterinary treatment. The animal is injured, sick, or in pain or suffering. The animal has been or is being abused or woefully neglected to the detriment of its health.

Some cruelties are vindictive and deliberate, many are perpetrated in ignorance or neglect.

If you are concerned that an animal may be in distress, do not ignore it. Your actions could help save a life. In addition to protecting the animal, you may also be protecting children or adults at risk of being harmed. NEVER hesitate to let us know of suspected cruelty.

How to recognize an animal in distress

1) Thin and emaciated

Extremely thin, rib bones and hip bones are visible. This could indicate starvation or illness.

This is Icabod when he was first confiscated from his former owner and brought into the RISPCA. The picture on the right is him after months of loving care and proper food.

ichabod-Icabod now from side


2) Little to no access to shelter, food or water

All companion, farm and captive animals of any sort should have access to food, water and shelter from the elements. See the law below.

3) Wounded or injured, either with an obvious wound, limping or moving gingerly as if it is in pain. Or you see someone actually physically abusing an animal by hitting or kicking.

4) Coat in poor condition

Could indicate a flea or tick infestation, or an illness. At the very least, there is neglect of that animal.

5) Hair badly matted

Can cause distress to an animal. Matted hair hurts. The RISPCA has had a number of cases where matting was so bad that it impeded the animal’s movement and ultimately atrophied its muscles.

This is Indy, when he was left at the door of our shelter, and then later when he was mostly healed. He will never fully regain the use of his legs.

IndiIndi on tableIndi_Holiday

6) Overgrown or neglected nails or hooves

This is Elf, a donkey that we rescued a few years ago. The picture on the left is of his overgrown hooves, and the picture on the right is Elf after treatment and care.


7) Untreated infections

Infections from eye problems, untreated wounds, etc. can go on to be irreparable, causing the loss of eyesight or a limb. For animals left untreated who live outside, such as farm animals, untreated wounds can be the target of horrific infestations of fly larvae. There is never a humane reason for an animal to go through this.

8) Tethered for more than 10 hours or on a tether any shorter than 6 feet, or tethered with a choke or prong collar. See the law below

9) Living in Squalor. See law below.

Recent legislation

Below is the link to the State of Rhode Island General Assembly Website.  Title 4 of Rhode Island General Law covers laws relating to animal husbandry and animal cruelty.

Cruelty Legislation

RIGL 4-13-42 is a more recent addition to our animal cruelty laws.  Under 4-13-42 it is now a crime to tether a dog on a choke-type collar and further requires the length of the tether to be a minimum of 6 feet long.  Additionally this statute makes it a crime to tether a dog for more than 10 hours in a  period or keep a dog caged, penned or fenced for more than 14 hours in a 24-hour period.  You can refer to the statute for more details.

This dog can't lie down because his tether is too short.

This dog can’t lie down because his tether is too short.

A recent amendment to RIGL 4-1-3 now establishes “adequate living conditions” for all animals with the exemption of livestock.  Animals must now legally be provided with a space that is dry and free of accumulated feces and hazardous debris, as well as being sufficient in size so as not to inhibit comfortable, normal posture or range of movement. RIGL 4-1-1 more specifically defines “adequate living conditions”.

This dog is living in squalor.

This dog is living in squalor.

Hot Car Legislation

Legislation was just passed prohibiting leaving an animal in a hot (or extremely cold) car. This legislation is long-awaited and very welcome, after we have seen so many tragic results of dogs left in hot cars. Here’s the link to the law.  It includes this language:

“4-1-3.2. Animal confinement in motor vehicles prohibited. – (a) No owner or person
4 shall confine any animal in a motor vehicle which is done in a manner that places the animal in a
5 life threatening or extreme health threatening situation by exposing it to a prolonged period of
6 extreme heat or cold, without proper ventilation or other protection from such heat or cold. In
7 order to protect the health and safety of an animal, an animal control officer, law enforcement
8 officer or fire fighter who has probable cause to believe that this section is being violated shall
9 have the authority to enter such motor vehicle by any reasonable means necessary under the
10 circumstances, after making a reasonable effort to locate the owner or other responsible person.”

Vicious Dog Legislation in Rhode Island

While not under the heading of animal cruelty in the context of our work advocating for the well-being of animals, we have had people ask us about the process for vicious dogs. Here’s a link to the legislation.

West’s General Laws of Rhode Island Annotated. Title 4. Animals and Animal Husbandry. Chapter 13.1. Regulation of Vicious. Dogs. § 4-13.1-9. Penalties for violation–Licensing ordinances and fees


This Rhode Island statute provides that a vicious dog may be confiscated by a dog officer and destroyed in an expeditious and humane manner after the expiration of a five day waiting period if an owner does not secure liability insurance, have his or her dog properly identified, or properly enclose/restrain the dog.  If any dog declared vicious under § 4-13.1-11, when unprovoked, kills, wounds, or worries or assists in killing or wounding any described animal, the owner shall pay a five hundred fifty dollar fine.  The dog officer is empowered to confiscate the dog.  The statute further provides that municipalities may enact vicious dog licensing ordinances and provide for impoundment of dogs that violate such ordinances.  It also outlines other actions owners of vicious dogs must take, including the posting of vicious dog signs and the maintenance of proper insurance.

Here’s the link to the Vicious Dog Hearing process:

Determination of a vicious dog

§ 4-13.1-11  Determination of a vicious dog. – (a) In the event that the dog officer or law enforcement officer has probable cause to believe that a dog is vicious, the chief dog officer or his or her immediate supervisor or the chief of police, or his or her designee, is empowered to convene a hearing for the purpose of determining whether or not the dog in question should be declared vicious. The dog officer or chief of police shall conduct or cause to be conducted an investigation and shall notify the owner or keeper of the dog that a hearing will be held, at which time he or she may have the opportunity to present evidence why the dog should not be declared vicious. The hearing shall be held promptly within no less than five (5) nor more than ten (10) days after service of notice upon the owner or keeper of the dog while said notice shall be served upon the owner. The hearing shall be informal and shall be open to the public. The hearing shall be conducted by a panel of three (3) persons which shall consist of the chief of police or his or her designee, the executive director of the society for the prevention of cruelty to animals (S.P.C.A.) or his or her designee, and a person chosen by the chief of police and the executive director of the S.P.C.A. All members of the panel shall have one vote in making a determination whether or not the dog in question is vicious. Hearing officers shall have immunity.

(b) After the hearing, the owner or keeper of the dog shall be notified in writing of the determination. If a determination is made that the dog is vicious, the owner or keeper shall comply with this chapter in accordance with a time schedule established by the dog officer or chief of police, but in no case more than thirty (30) days subsequent to the date of the determination. If the owner or keeper of the dog contests the determination, he or she may, within five (5) days of that determination, bring a petition in the district court within the judicial district where the dog is owned or kept, praying that the court conduct its own hearing on whether or not the dog should be declared vicious. After service of notice upon the dog officer, the court shall conduct a hearing de novo and make its own determination as to viciousness. The hearing shall be conducted within seven (7) days of the service of the notice upon the dog officer or law enforcement officer involved. The issue shall be decided upon the preponderance of the evidence. If the court rules the dog to be vicious, the court may establish a time schedule to ensure compliance with this chapter, but in no case more than thirty (30) days subsequent to the date of the court’s determination. If the owner has not complied with the provisions of this chapter at the end of thirty (30) days from the written notification that the dog is vicious, the dog may be euthanized.

(c) The court may decide all issues for or against the owner or keeper of the dog regardless of the fact that the owner or keeper fails to appear at the hearing.

(d) The determination of the district court shall be final and conclusive upon all parties. The dog officer or any law enforcement officer shall have the right to convene a hearing under this section for any subsequent actions of the dog.

(e) In the event that the dog officer or law enforcement officer has probable cause to believe that the dog in question is vicious and may pose a threat of serious harm to human beings or other domestic animals, the dog officer or law enforcement officer may seize and impound the dog pending the hearings. The owner or keeper of the dog is liable to the city or town where the dog is impounded for the costs and expenses of keeping the dog. The city or town council may establish by ordinance a schedule of those costs and expenses.