Determining Psychological Suffering in Cases of Animal Cruelty Using Circumstantial Evidence and FEASAC


SPEAKER: Dr. Rebecca Ledger, PhD, Animal Behaviour and Welfare Scientist

While many of us are naturally adept at observing and interpreting how we think an animal feels when subjected to abusive or neglectful conditions, our reluctance to articulate this in court has meant that, unless there is physical evidence of suffering, many cases of psychological suffering have escaped prosecution.

Interviews with cruelty investigators, prosecutors and scientists suggest that these reservations have occurred for three reasons:

  1. An incomplete scientific understanding regarding the nature of psychological suffering in animals.
  2. An assumption that psychological suffering is not considered relevant under animal cruelty legislation.
  3. Uncertainty regarding how to demonstrate scientifically that an animal has suffered psychologically.

Since 2014, these reservations have been challenged. Humane organizations across Canada have now successfully gained warrants and laid charges against individual persons who have caused animals to suffer psychologically using circumstantial evidence, sometimes in the absence of evidence of physical harm.

From a retrospective evaluation of 20+ cases of psychological suffering, a 9-step process (FEASAC) has emerged, which allows animal cruelty investigators, prosecutors and experts to review circumstantial evidence and to determine whether charges should be successfully laid in cases where animals have experienced mental suffering.

Three case studies will be reviewed involving cats and dogs, where this 9-step process has been successfully applied.

Key Learnings:

  1. To understand the nature of psychological suffering in animals.
  2. To understand how to apply FEASAC, a 9-step process, to determine when animals have suffered psychologically.


Dr. Rebecca Ledger is a British Columbia-based animal behaviour and animal welfare scientist. Rebecca teaches animal behaviour, welfare and law at Langara College, runs a consultancy that provides expertise to local governments, humane organizations, veterinarians and pet owners, and writes an animal welfare column for the Vancouver Sun.

In recent years, Rebecca has pioneered the use of behavioural evidence in cases where animals have suffered psychologically. Having been retained on 40+ cases to date, the process she has developed has allowed humane organizations to successfully gain warrants, lay charges and prosecute cruelty cases involving dogs and cats, often in the absence of any physical evidence.

Rebecca has a BSc (Hons) in Biology from the University of London; a Master’s degree in Applied Animal Behaviour and Animal Welfare from the University of Edinburgh, where she studied farm, zoo, wild, laboratory and companion animals; a Doctorate in companion animal behaviour and welfare from Brunel University; and is a Fellow of the Society of Biology.

Read our interview with Dr. Rebecca Ledger here!