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Animal abuse is beginning to move out of the world of a misdemeanor and is flirting with felony charges in many jurisdictions. There is more recognition that animal abuse may be indicative of other criminal enterprises, and serious mental health issues, that are leading the people charged with animal abuse to be treated more harshly by the system. The awareness of a form of OCD that has animal hoarding as one of its symptoms shows that the increased seriousness of the charges and penalties may not be the best approach to treating someone who is accused of animal abuse.
Hoarding and criminal charges
Many jurisdictions are trying to strike a balance between criminal charges and helping those who are hoarding animals receive the mental health care that they need. Some police and animal control officers will give warnings and time frames for the person to relocate the animals or improve their conditions. Charges may only be filed if the animal’s circumstances do not improve. Those who are charged with animal abuse for crowded conditions due to unlicensed breeding or for raising fighting animals are given little leeway.
The right to removal
The right for law enforcement to remove animals is dependent on warnings issued. There are only certain circumstances of imminent danger in which an animal can be directly seized. In most counties and states, animals are still considered to be property and are not guaranteed any rights. Imminent danger is almost always defined by a history of attacks on a person, or threatening behavior towards another animal. In some cities, there must be physical harm caused first before law enforcement can remove the animal.
The increasing fines and prison terms
Increased public anger over animal neglect and abuse has fueled an increase in fines and jail time being served by those convicted of animal abuse charges. Even so, they often are not in line with the damage that the animal has caused. In the case of the 3 pit bulls that mauled a jogger to death, the owner – who had been cited before – was fined and given a 6 month sentence. Not much of a stricter sentencing was given to the owners of the chimpanzee who attacked a woman in Connecticut that resulted in the loss of her face. It is vital to know that each town, township or incorporated may have their own regulations about what constitutes animal abuse, and how it can be charged before you proceed.