This is a summary for how a concerned citizen can take action if they are a witness to animal cruelty.
Take action to help a vulnerable animal
The weather this time of year is both delightful and frightful.
If you or someone you know has witnessed an animal left in an unsafe or neglectful manner, it is important to take action. Sometimes, the animal owner might be financially unable to adequately care for the animal or just need some temporary help. If safe to do so, it might be worth asking if the owner needs help. The Animal Legal Defense Fund has an article titled, "How to Help a Neighbor's Neglected Animal," that offers some helpful suggestions for animals who are not in immediate danger.
If an animal is suffering or in a dangerous situation, you should contact Law Enforcement and Animal Control immediately. If that does not produce results, you can reach out to local rescue groups who often have more resources to assist an animal owner who is no longer able to provide adequate care.
From a legal perspective, it is important to note that neglecting basic care for an animal is a misdemeanor in all 50 states. If you cause the unnecessary suffering of an animal, even if you did not intend to, you can be charged with a crime. In Washington, RCW 16.52.205 and 16.52.207 state the elements of animal cruelty in the first and second degree. The primary difference between first and second degree is whether the person acted intentionally or negligently.
Animal cruelty in the first degree.
(1) A person is guilty of animal cruelty in the first degree when, except as authorized in law, he or she intentionally (a) inflicts substantial pain on, (b) causes physical injury to, or (c) kills an animal by a means causing undue suffering or while manifesting an extreme indifference to life, or forces a minor to inflict unnecessary pain, injury, or death on an animal.
(2) A person is guilty of animal cruelty in the first degree when, except as authorized by law, he or she, with criminal negligence, starves, dehydrates, or suffocates an animal and as a result causes: (a) Substantial and unjustifiable physical pain that extends for a period sufficient to cause considerable suffering; or (b) death.
(3) A person is guilty of animal cruelty in the first degree when he or she:
(a) Knowingly engages in any sexual conduct or sexual contact with an animal;
(b) Knowingly causes, aids, or abets another person to engage in any sexual conduct or sexual contact with an animal;
(c) Knowingly permits any sexual conduct or sexual contact with an animal to be conducted on any premises under his or her charge or control;
(d) Knowingly engages in, organizes, promotes, conducts, advertises, aids, abets, participates in as an observer, or performs any service in the furtherance of an act involving any sexual conduct or sexual contact with an animal for a commercial or recreational purpose; or
(e) Knowingly photographs or films, for purposes of sexual gratification, a person engaged in a sexual act or sexual contact with an animal.
(4) Animal cruelty in the first degree is a class C felony.
(5) In addition to the penalty imposed in subsection (4) of this section, the court may order that the convicted person do any of the following:
(a) Not harbor or own animals or reside in any household where animals are present;
(b) Participate in appropriate counseling at the defendant's expense;
(c) Reimburse the animal shelter or humane society for any reasonable costs incurred for the care and maintenance of any animals taken to the animal shelter or humane society as a result of conduct proscribed in subsection (3) of this section.
(6) Nothing in this section may be considered to prohibit accepted animal husbandry practices or accepted veterinary medical practices by a licensed veterinarian or certified veterinary technician.
(7) If the court has reasonable grounds to believe that a violation of this section has occurred, the court may order the seizure of all animals involved in the alleged violation as a condition of bond of a person charged with a violation.
(8) For purposes of this section:
(a) "Animal" means every creature, either alive or dead, other than a human being.
(b) "Sexual conduct" means any touching or fondling by a person, either directly or through clothing, of the sex organs or anus of an animal or any transfer or transmission of semen by the person upon any part of the animal, for the purpose of sexual gratification or arousal of the person.
(c) "Sexual contact" means any contact, however slight, between the mouth, sex organ, or anus of a person and the sex organ or anus of an animal, or any intrusion, however slight, of any part of the body of the person into the sex organ or anus of an animal, or any intrusion of the sex organ or anus of the person into the mouth of the animal, for the purpose of sexual gratification or arousal of the person.
(d) "Photographs" or "films" means the making of a photograph, motion picture film, videotape, digital image, or any other recording, sale, or transmission of the image.
Animal cruelty in the second degree--Penalty.
(1) A person is guilty of animal cruelty in the second degree if, under circumstances not amounting to first degree animal cruelty, the person knowingly, recklessly, or with criminal negligence inflicts unnecessary suffering or pain upon an animal.
(2) An owner of an animal is guilty of animal cruelty in the second degree if, under circumstances not amounting to first degree animal cruelty, the owner knowingly, recklessly, or with criminal negligence:
(a) Fails to provide the animal with necessary shelter, rest, sanitation, space, or medical attention and the animal suffers unnecessary or unjustifiable physical pain as a result of the failure;
(b) Under circumstances not amounting to animal cruelty in the second degree under (c) of this subsection, abandons the animal; or
(c) Abandons the animal and (i) as a result of being abandoned, the animal suffers bodily harm; or (ii) abandoning the animal creates an imminent and substantial risk that the animal will suffer substantial bodily harm.
(3) Animal cruelty in the second degree is a gross misdemeanor.
(4) In any prosecution of animal cruelty in the second degree under subsection (1) or (2)(a) of this section, it shall be an affirmative defense, if established by the defendant by a preponderance of the evidence, that the defendant's failure was due to economic distress beyond the defendant's control.
While most owners do not intend to cause harm, you must take affirmative action to protect your animals should weather become a factor in their safety. This includes proper shelter, food, and water. If the water you provide will be frozen, that would not be adequate care. Additionally, depending on the temperature, certain pets might need to avoid any extended time outside. If you own the animal, it is your duty to figure out what amounts to adequate care based on weather.
If you are unsure, ask a veterinarian and do additional research. Tufts University created the Tufts Animal Condition and Care (TACC) scale which is full of information about what is appropriate based on your dog's breed, health, size, and coat, as compared to temperature and moisture. You can find an easy link by going to www.gopetplan.com/blogpost/cold-weather-and-dogs. It will also link you to the original TACC pdf.
Not everyone can (or wants to!) be an attorney, but we can all be advocates. Look out for the dependent members of our community. Together, we can keep our furry friends safe and happy. And, if you are ever unsure, err on the side of kindness and safety--keep them inside when the temperatures drop!
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