May 6, 2011 Frequently asked questions The Humane Society of the United States 1.What is criminal animal neglect? Animal neglect situations are those in which the animal's caretaker or owner fails to provide food, water, shelter, or veterinary care sufficient for survival. It can be either deliberate or unintentional, but either way, the animal suffers terribly. Extended periods of neglect can lead to seriously compromised health or even death.
Animal control agencies nationwide report that animal neglect cases are the most common calls to which they respond. 2. How does it cause animal suffering? The pain of an animal who lingers with untreated illness or wounds, or without nourishment or shelter, can be tremendous—sometimes even more so than those who are victims of directly inflicted violence, because their suffering is so prolonged.
Animals who starve to death experience a myriad of painful symptoms throughout each stage of their physical deterioration. An initial loss of body fat is followed by muscle loss and atrophy and, ultimately, organ failure. In long-term starvation, degeneration of the liver, cardiac changes, anemia, and skin lesions may develop. An animal without proper shelter can also quickly succumb to extreme heat or cold.
During extremely cold spells or hot periods, it is not uncommon for animal control officers to find companion animals—often chained dogs—literally frozen to the ground or dead from heat prostration because of lack of proper shelter from the elements. Often these animals perish only feet away from the homes in which their caretakers live.Dogs who are continually chained are also neglect victims, even if it may not be illegal in that particular jurisdiction.
Because dogs are social pack animals, isolating them at the end of a chain causes them anguish that can drive them to aggression, neuroses, and self-mutilation behaviors. Chained dogs are also more likely to be victims of starvation, because their confinement renders them particularly helpless. 3. Are there other concerns? Yes. Law enforcement officials responding to cases of animal neglect often find various forms of abusive behavior [PDF] like child neglect and/or elder abuse in the same household.
This is particularly true in cases of animal hoarding, where a person takes in far too many animals than can be cared for and becomes virtually blind to their suffering. Cats are the most common animal-hoarding victims. Because people who are insensitive to the suffering of animals are more likely to be unresponsive to the needs of dependent people in their household (and vice versa), several states have "cross-reporting" laws.
Cross-reporting laws are those in which humane officers and/or veterinarians are required to report possible elder and/or child abuse. Also, there can be informal agreements between social welfare agencies where agents are encouraged to report suspected animal cruelty and neglect.Anecdotally, in cases of severe animal neglect at a residence, mental illness and/or drug abuse may be implicated in the situation as well.
4. Are there laws against animal neglect? Yes. Although many people do not recognize animal neglect as illegal animal abuse, many states have a provision specifically addressing animal neglect written into their animal cruelty laws; others allow animal neglect to be prosecuted under the general cruelty statute prohibiting acts of "torture" against an animal. Thirteen states have laws limiting the continuous chaining of dogs.
Body condition scoring systems for cattle and horses have long been in place to help assess the condition of livestock, and in recent years scoring systems for dogs (ranging from ideal to emaciated) have been developed to help animal cruelty investigators and veterinarians assess cases of animal neglect. A major shortcoming of many animal neglect laws is their failure to address all animal species.
For instance, many statutes specifically apply only to dogs and cats or "companion animals" and exclude those considered "farm animals" or trapped wildlife. 5. Can animal neglect be prosecuted as a felony offense? Prosecutors in some states have the option to charge an egregious case of animal neglect as a felony when the neglect was considered to have fallen under the definition of "torture," or was considered intentional (although intent has been notoriously difficult to prove in court.
) Still, felony convictions have been obtained in neglect cases resulting in the animals' deaths. There are several compelling reasons for treating animal neglect as a serious crime, including the extreme suffering involved and its implications for the welfare of other animals and people who may rely upon the abuser. Overly lenient penalties (small fines, probation, or suspended sentences) that accompany misdemeanor convictions are problematic because they leave the door open for the offenders to repeat their abuse with other animals and/or people in their care.
6. What can I do to help stop animal neglect? Be aware of the signs of animal neglect—including chained dogs, animal hoarding, or abandoned pets—and be willing to make a report to your local animal control agency. If your town or city does not have a local animal control, you can make a report to the sheriff or other law enforcement agency. (You may remain anonymous when filing a report.) Some neglect cases, when the owners' lack of resources and/or knowledge is the problem, can be resolved simply by educating the owner and working with them to adjust their animal's living conditions.
For example, some communities have fence building projects for the owners of chained dogs who may not have enough money to build a fence. (This approach is usually more effective if you're well acquainted with or are on positive terms already with the person in question.) The HSUS also has free pamphlets on animal neglect and chaining that you can leave at doorsteps or pass out in your community. In most cases, the education and monitoring of the neglect situation is best left to your community's law enforcement professionals.
See Also: Sioux City Animal Shelter
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As news reports and undercover investigations reveal, animal abuse occurs with troubling regularity in the United States. No species of animal seems to be immune from this cruelty: from companion animals to circus animals to farmed animals, animal abuse is an increasingly concerning issue. Perhaps more concerning is how little protection and justice animals are afforded under the law. Very often, animal abuse is simply ignored by authorities.
When it is charged as a crime, defendants often get away with insignificant misdemeanor convictions and trivial fines as their only punishment. For example, a New Jersey woman who starved her dog, stuffed him into a trash bag, dumped him into a garbage disposal, and left him to die only received a $2,000 fine and 18 months of probation for her crime. In another case, workers who viciously kicked, stomped on, and beat dairy cows at an Idaho dairy farm received nothing more than minuscule $500 fines.
These disproportionate results may be because historically, animal abuse has not been considered a particularly serious crime. However, there are a number of reasons why animal abuse should be taken much more seriously and considered a “violent crime” deserving of stronger punishment. What is a “Violent Crime?” A “violent crime” is one where the victim of the crime is harmed by or threatened with violence.
Under U.S. law, violent crimes include murder, rape, sexual assault, robbery, and assault. Such crimes are considered especially serious and are thus closely tracked by law enforcement and typically punished more harshly than other crimes. Currently, a violent crime only qualifies as such if the victim of the crime is a human being. This means that an act of violence committed against an animal – no matter how egregious – is not technically considered a violent crime, and it is not punished as such.
Why Isn’t Animal Abuse Currently Considered a Violent Crime? Astonishingly, animals are still considered property under the law, much the same as a table or chair. Because violent crimes contemplate harms committed against people and not against property, animal abuse does not qualify as a violent crime, despite the fact that animal abuse very obviously involves violence. Instead, animal abuse is often treated as an infraction or low-level misdemeanor, typically punished by no more than a fine and probation.
Animal Abuse Should be Considered a Violent Crime! There are a number of very important reasons that animal abuse should be considered a violent crime in our legal system. First, we know based on personal experience and countless scientific studies that animals are not things. They are nothing like other “property” such as tables and chairs. Animals are sentient beings with the ability to feel a range of emotions, and they are harmed both physically and psychologically by violent abuse, much as human beings are.
They deserve to be treated under the law as the complex creatures that they are. Second, animal abuse is strongly linked with other forms of abuse, such as domestic violence and child abuse. One study found that animal abuse occurred in 88 percent of homes where child abuse had been discovered. Another study found that up to 83 percent of women entering domestic violence shelters report that their abusers also abuse the family pet.
In fact, animal abusers are five times more likely to abuse people. Changing the Law to Change Public Perception By classifying animal abuse as a violent crime and tracking and punishing it accordingly, we will protect both helpless animals and the people animal abusers are more likely to abuse. While it is incredibly important to appropriately punish animal abusers this change would play an even larger role in the way we regard animals in our society.
When we consider the harm done to animals as equal to the harm done to members of our own species, we can begin to change cultural perceptions of animals and one day upgrade their status from being property to being individuals in their own right. It is only when this conscious change is made that we can hope to see a real change in the way that people treat and view animals. It’s not only an upgrade in the law, but an upgrade in our own values.
Image Source: Tim Dawson/Wikimedia Commons Related