Are Animal Control Officers Real Police Officers? Can Animal Control Officers Arrest Me or Charge Me with Crimes?

While there is often confusion as to the powers local animal control officers possess, it is important to recognize that they are real law enforcement officers who enforce a variety of criminal offenses, many of which are jailable.

Failure to comply with the legal orders of an animal control officer can lead to you being charged with obstruction of justice, which is a Class 1 misdemeanor in Virginia.

For example, the Norfolk City Code gives animal, control officers authority and criminalizes a variety of animal related offenses as Class 1 misdemeanors by up to 12 months in jail and/or a fine of up to $2500.

The Code also authorizes the court to require that a person convicted of an animal control offense to pay restitution to the City of Norfolk in addition to any costs associated, handling, housing or medical care for the animals.

The Code gives specific definitions for adequate exercise, adequate shelter, adequate space, adequate water, and several other important terms related to the prosecution of these types of crimes.

Here are some common examples of animal control violations and the potential punishments associated with them.

(For more information on the different classes of misdemeanors in Virginia, you can visit our Frequently Asked Questions page here.)

Limitation on Keeping of Dogs and Cats: No more than four (4) adult dogs and four (4) adult cats may be kept in any one dwelling unit or premises within the Norfolk City limits.

Animals in Motor Vehicles: No person shall leave any animal in any standing or parked vehicle in such a way as to endanger the animal’s health, safety, or welfare.

Adequate Space for Animals: Except under a traveling animal permit, it shall be unlawful for any person to fail to provide adequate space, as that term is defined in this chapter, for any animal.

License for Dog or Cat: Requires rabies vaccines for dogs, cats, and ferrets.

Notice of Exposure and Access to Animal: Requires quarantine of potentially rabid animal and criminalizes concealing or harboring animal in interference with animal control investigation.

Allowing Animals to Defecate on Public Property or on Private Property of Other Animals: It is a Class 3 misdemeanor to allow animals to defecate on public property or on private property of other persons.

Animals Riding in Open Vehicles: It shall be unlawful for the operator of any motor vehicle to place or keep an animal in any portion of such vehicle that is open in such a manner so as to permit such animal to jump out for or escape the vehicle or to be thrown from the vehicle or by an accident involving the vehicle.

Abandonment of Animals: Any person who abandons any companion animal in any public place including the right-of-way of any public highway, road or street or on the property of another shall be guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor.

Nuisance Animals: It shall be unlawful for any owner or custodian of an animal to fail to exercise proper care and control of his or her animal to prevent it from becoming a public nuisance. This includes excessive, continuous or untimely barking, molesting of passersby, chasing vehicles, attacking other domestic animals, trespassing upon private or public property.

Failure to Perform Duties of Ownership: Failure to perform duties of ownership including providing adequate food, shelter, and water is first punishable as a Class 3 misdemeanor but a second violation involving the same animal is punishable as a Class 2 misdemeanor. A third violation involving the same animal is punishable as a Class 1 misdemeanor.

Cruelty to Animals: Cruelty to animals is unlawful and the court the court may order a person who has been found guilty of this offense not to own an animal within Norfolk city limits for a period of two (2) years from the date of conviction.

Animals at Large: Often referred to as the “dog at large” statute, it is unlawful for any owner, custodian or other person in charge or control of any animal to permit or allow such animal to be at large within the city limits or to negligently fail to prevent the animal from being at large within the Norfolk City limits. The first violation of this sections is punishable as a Class 4 misdemeanor and a second violation involving the same animal is punishable as a class 3 misdemeanor. A third violation is punishable as a Class 2 misdemeanor.

If you are charged with an animal control offense in Norfolk or Hampton Roads, be sure to treat it the way you would treat any other criminal charge. You can call LeCruise Law to schedule an in-person consultation or phone appointment that is convenient for your schedule.