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Quick Summary of Humane Societies and Enforcement Powers

Christopher A. Pierce


Animal Legal and Historical Center
Publish Date:
2011
Place of Publication: Michigan State University College of Law
Printable Version

Quick Summary of Humane Societies and Enforcement Powers

Humane societies are most commonly recognized for operating shelters for abandoned, malnourished, and abused animals.  However, in some communities, humane societies also serve a law enforcement role for animal cruelty crimes.  Throughout the United States, there is a wide spectrum of authority granted to humane societies.  The different types of authority designations can be classified into five categories.

First, some state legislatures do not vest, or give, any extraordinary powers to humane societies, which this Article refers to as the “ordinary rights approach.”  The humane society’s power is equivalent to that of an ordinary citizen.  The humane society performs its more traditional roles of operating animal shelters and educating the community about animal abuse and neglect.

The second approach is the “animal rescue approach.”  While still performing the traditional role of caring for abused and neglected animals, humane societies are more involved with investigating animal cruelty.  A humane society representative may be present at the crime scene to seize and treat the animal. The representative’s role is to support law enforcement.  The representative is likely to handle and care for the animals, but the traditional police powers, such as arrest, remain with the law enforcement officer.

The third approach is the “limited law enforcement approach.”  A humane society agent is given limited law enforcement powers and duties to enforce animal cruelty laws.  However, the agent is not vested with the same amount of authority as a police officer.  For instance, a humane society agent could be granted the ability to obtain search warrants and conduct lawful searches, but still not have the authority to carry a firearm or make arrests.

A fourth approach is the “law enforcement approach.”  Under this approach, a humane society agent is vested with all the police powers to enforce animal cruelty and neglect laws.  These powers include the ability to investigate, execute search warrants, seize animals and property, and arrest offenders.  Jurisdictions that grant police powers to humane society agents often require specialized training and registration for the agents.

The final approach is the “community policing approach.”  Although several states designate current law enforcement officers to serve as humane agents, Indiana is the only state to expressly require the officer to essentially become a member of the humane society.  In Indiana, an active duty police officer is designated a humane officer and is required to work jointly with the humane society.  The officer is required to attend humane society meetings, report to the humane society, and investigate and enforce animal cruelty laws at the behest of the humane society.  Thus, the officer acts more or less as an extension of the humane society.

The amount of authority granted to humane societies can differ drastically among the states. Thus, jurisdictions also have to determine the appropriate training and the amount of governmental oversight for the humane society agents.

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