Animal abuse: What practitioners need to know - Veterinary Medicine
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Animal abuse: What practitioners need to know


Lockwood sees some positive legal trends. The April 2006 Humane Society of the United States accounting of anti-cruelty laws lists animal abuse provisions in all 50 states—43 of which make some form of cruelty a felony. That's an increase from the 31 states in 2000, he says, and only five states in 1990.17

Possible fines for animal abuse range from $1,000 to $5,000 in several states to $20,000 in California, $50,000 in Illinois, $100,000 in Colorado and Oregon, and $150,000 in Arizona. Possible jail sentences are as long as 10 years in Alabama and Louisiana. Alaska reserves the right to prohibit ownership of animals for up to 10 years. Courts may require counseling or anger management programs in 16 states; these programs are mandatory in 12 states.18

"The increase in potential fines and jail time in serious animal abuse cases has also raised the standards of evidence needed in the prosecution of these cases," Lockwood says. "For this reason, it is crucial to develop and refine veterinary forensic techniques for identifying and describing the injuries and illnesses that result from abuse and neglect."

Meanwhile, other areas of the law are also evolving. Maine Gov. John Baldacci signed a bill into law March 1 allowing animals to be included in protection orders in domestic violence cases. The Maine law is probably the first regulation of its kind in the nation.19 Lockwood says a similar law has been passed in Vermont.

The New Jersey Veterinary Medical Association, Dr. Lacroix says, has introduced a complete overhaul of that state's animal abuse laws in the state legislature. Although some think New York's tougher felony abuse law—as well as others in the new wave of laws bringing some kinds of abuse up to the felony level—is a step in the right direction, she points out that other activists think the New York law is only a small step.

New York's felony animal abuse law allows judges to sentence abusers to two years in jail. James Whalen, however, didn't lose his freedom, though he did lose his fiancée. "It bothered me that he didn't go to jail," Dr. Levitzke, the emergency veterinarian, says. "And it bothered the prosecuting attorney as well. I spoke to the district attorney in Brooklyn about it, I was so upset. She told me that for five years this guy has to walk the straight and narrow on probation and that a guy like that can't. I hope he makes even a minor misstep and gets the jail time he deserves."

John Lofflin is a freelance writer based in Kansas City, Missouri.


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