Lauren Appleby contributed to this post and is a current Summer Associate at Fox Rothschild’s Princeton, NJ Office.”

Post-conviction ownership bans for animal abuse are a recognized potential legal consequence in at least forty states.[1]In New Jersey, Moose’s Law, a bill which has been proposed since 2012, would prohibit people convicted of criminal animal cruelty offenses from possessing domestic companion animals for at least two years and from working or volunteering at animal-related enterprises.[2]

While at first glance, it may seem reasonable to implement such bans, there have been indications of unintended consequences to minority populations who may be disproportionately pursued and penalized as animal abusers. As Justin Marceau stated in Beyond Cages: Animal Law and Criminal Punishment, “decisions to seek incarceration of people accused of animal abuse perpetuate an entrenched system of racial disadvantage.”[3] Such a disparate impact on those communities can exacerbate racial inequalities in the enforcement of animal cruelty laws.

For example, in 2014, a young black man was arrested and charged with animal cruelty after a video was posted on social media showing him kicking a stray cat several yards through the air.[4] Both the Kings County District Attorney, on behalf of the State, and attorneys from the New York City Legal Aid Society, on behalf of the accused,[5] “agreed that the . . . case was handled differently by prosecutors because of the intense and sustained involvement of animal protection groups and the pressure campaign they mounted.”[6] The Criminal Court ruled that the prosecution had not shown that the cat had been injured and thus dismissed the charge for torturing and injuring an animal.[7] However, the prosecution appealed and the State Supreme Court found that the “defendant’s actions tended to cause unjustifiable physical pain, and, thus, that defendant had cruelly beaten the cat in violation of Agriculture and Markets Law § 353.”[8] Ultimately, [the defendant] pleaded guilty to one count of torturing animals before he was handed the . . . sentence—one day of community service for about every foot he kicked King the cat in the air.”[9]

As we near the ten-year anniversary of this case, there are concerns that this case is not unique. The approaches advocated by animal rights activists—mandatory minimums, post-conviction bans, more felony prosecutions, and offender registries—seem to disproportionately impact those in black and brown communities.

While “race is never irrelevant when it comes to justice system reforms” we must also consider the broader social implications and disparate racial impact of such measures while we also protect vulnerable, innocent animals.[10]

Perhaps, instead of focusing on enhanced enforcement of animal cruelty violations—in applicable cases—we should apply the principals of restorative justice to intervene and reduce the prevalence of animal cruelty.[11] For instance, animal health clinics have connected with local and regional communities to provide low-cost care to pet owners, while also educating pet owners about the importance of preventive medicine and animal care.[12] By emphasizing the animal’s well-being at the center of the process and the benefits of the human-animal bond in all communities, the goal is to eliminate the need to atone for acts of animal cruelty since they could be prevented.[13] This approach “engages communities, which is imperative for animal cruelty offenders, who are all inevitably released back into their communities after their cases have been adjudicated,”[14] even if the intended prevention of such cases is not successful.

Ultimately, taking a restorative justice approach that focuses on community outreach and resources is one solution that not only reduces the pool of potential victims, but also has a less discriminatory impact on minority communities than post-conviction bans.

[1] Mich. State U. Coll. Law,Anti-Cruelty laws that Restrain Future Ownership of AnimalsAnti-cruelty laws that restrain future ownership of animals | Animal Legal & Historical Center ( (last visited June 12, 2024).

[2] Bill A3709, Gen Assemb., 221st Leg. (N.J. 2024).

[3] Justin Marceau, Beyond Cages: Animal Law and Criminal Punishment 191 (2019).

[4] People v. Robinson, 56 Misc. 3d 77, 78 (N.Y. App. Term 2017).

[5] Id.

[6] Justin Marceau, Palliative Animal Law: The War on Animal Cruelty, 134 Harv. L. Rev. 5 (March 2021)

[7] Robinson, 56 Misc. 3d at 78.

[8] Id. at 583.

[9] Jennifer Bain and Emily Saul, Man who kicked cat dodges jail, taunts protesters, N.Y. Post (Nov. 28, 2017).

[10] Marceau, supra note 3 at 152.

[11] See generally Brittany Hill, Restoring Justice for Animal Victims, 17 Vermont Animal & Natural Resource Law Review 217 (July 2021) (explaining the opportunity for success that taking a restorative justice approach provides).

[12] See e.g., Community Veterinary Outreach, (highlighting a program that “deliver[s] preventative animal healthcare such as physical exams, vaccinations, parasite control, and pet health education”); see also Cornell Coll. Veterinary Med. (emphasizing the importance of education in promoting animal welfare).

[13] Hill, supra note 11 at 231.

[14] Id.