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No Animal Was Harmed: New “Animal Cruelty” Definitions Turn Good Dog Owners into Criminals

By March 27, 2019May 7th, 2019Legislation, Responsible Ownership

No Animal Was Harmed: New “Animal Cruelty” Definitions Turn Good Dog Owners into Criminals

2019-03-27 | AKC Government Relations Department

Our lives today are busier than ever. Most pet lovers have long days filled with commitments and responsibilities, and downtime with our beloved dogs is how we relax. It’s hard to imagine that this cherished activity could be at risk. But while we’re not paying attention, laws are passing that criminalize the normal, everyday actions of good, caring pet owners.

Shockingly, under many new animal cruelty laws, your pets can be confiscated, and you can be charged with the crime of animal cruelty even when no animal is harmed. Consider this very real scenario:

Your dog keeps getting out of the fence, so you safely tether her within your fenced backyard with access to shelter and water, so she can enjoy some play time outside. A new anti-tethering law is passed in your county. Now you are a criminal animal abuser, even though your dog is safe, secure, sheltered, and suffers no harm as she plays outside on her tether.[1]

You go to the building supply store and purchase an escape-proof dog kennel. You assemble it where there is shade at all times, move her doghouse inside the kennel, and put out a container of fresh water. Your dog now has a secure, comfortable place to stay while the family is away. She still gets to play in the bigger fenced yard when the family is home, and she continues to live inside the house at night. Life returns to normal.

Not so fast.

Another new animal cruelty law is passed that requires an arbitrary minimum dog enclosure size of 200 square feet per dog. You measure your kennel run – it’s a standard 6’x10’ size – 60 square feet. You’re an abuser again, because your dog’s enclosure is now illegal under the new law, regardless of the fact that she also gets ample play time in the bigger fenced yard and sleeps in the house at night. [2]

You call a fencing company and construct a larger fenced kennel run. You order one of those deluxe weatherproof dog houses with a baffled door and a covered front porch. You pat your dog on the head and pay the installers, wishing that you didn’t have to cancel the family beach vacation to have money enough to add 140 more square feet to the kennel enclosure your dog inhabits for just 40-50 hours a week.

It doesn’t stop there.

A couple of months later, your children and dog are outside playing in the big fenced yard. It’s summer now, and you carefully watch the thermometer because the latest new animal cruelty law prohibits you from allowing your dog to be outside if the temperature goes above or below an arbitrary number. You’re an abuser if you don’t bring your dog inside, even if she is perfectly happy and comfortable at that temperature. The thermometer goes up one more degree, so you call her in. No problem letting the kids continue playing outside, but the dog must be brought indoors.

Your dog is bored, wants to be back outside with the kids, and she pulls the drapes off the window. You temporarily put her in her dog crate with a comfy dog pillow, toys, and fresh water while you do laundry and clean the house. You’re an abuser once again for putting your dog in an enclosure of less than 200 square feet. When the kids eventually go to their bedroom to play video games, you wonder why it is okay for your two children to share a 11’x10′ bedroom (110 square feet), but you commit the crime of animal cruelty for putting one dog – even a Chihuahua – in an enclosure of less than 200 square feet.

Autumn arrives, and the days grow shorter. As sunset approaches, you check the outside temperature again. Great!  It’s within the arbitrary restriction. You load your dog in the car and head to the park. You and your dog walk for a while, and you notice all the wildlife and other animals that thrive in all kinds of temperatures. It gets chilly as the sun goes down, and you wonder how your dog will get enough exercise when snow arrives. She loves the snow, and it’s hard to entice her to come inside. You ponder why it’s natural for tiny little naked bird feet to perch on snowy branches, but when winter arrives it will be a crime for your furry dog to play in the snow.

And yet another violation, absent any harm.

On the drive back from the park, you stop at the store to pick up a box of cereal. Under newly-enacted pets in cars law, you are an abuser for leaving your dog alone in the car, even when there is absolutely no risk that she will overheat or suffer harm. [3]

Seasons change, and life goes on—except for the dogs in your community. 

It’s late Spring now and the days are warm. You put your dog into her shady kennel run with the weatherproof dog house, toys, and water bucket. You go to your job as a security guard and spend the next eight hours working outside. You drive home past the high school where sports teams are practicing on the athletic fields. The band is preparing for the town parade, marching in full uniform in the afternoon sun. The crossing guard is directing cars, kids are walking back from the bus stop, a road crew is filling potholes with smoking red-hot asphalt, and joggers are jogging. You pull into your driveway and wave to the elderly lady next door who is outside gardening.

You wonder why children, working people, athletes, the elderly, and every other animal – both domestic and wild – routinely continue their outdoor activities under weather conditions that have been declared illegal for your dog.

You go to your backyard and find your dog safe within her kennel run, lying on the covered front porch of her dog house with her paws contently crossed. You let her romp for a while in the big fenced yard, and then bring her inside and start making dinner.

The next day is beautiful with moderate temperatures, cloudy skies, and a refreshing breeze. You safely enclose your dog in her kennel run, check to see that her water bucket is full, and go to work. You come home to find your dog is missing and a citation is taped on the front door. Your dog has been confiscated.

Your dog is seized. Now what?

You rush to the animal control office and are told there was a thunderstorm two counties away. Your county was briefly under a storm watch. Even though not a drop of rain fell, and the wind never went above a gentle breeze at your home, under a recent new law you committed animal cruelty for allowing your dog to be outdoors during a weather advisory. You try to explain that your dog has a sturdy weatherproof doghouse that is specially designed to keep her safe and dry in bad weather, and she sleeps inside at night. You beg to bring her home.[4]

You are told that your court date is in four weeks, and are advised that if you do not pay $1,050.00 to the court within the next 72 hours plus a $275.00 administrative fee that will be remitted to an out-of-state animal rights corporation, your ownership of your dog will be forfeited for failure to pay in advance for her “costs of care.”

Four weeks later, you appear in court. You’re told your case has been continued and you owe another $1,325.00, payable within 72 hours. You are still not allowed to see your dog.[5]

Another four weeks later, you are convicted of animal cruelty. You pay a significant fine. Because you have no prior convictions, the judge does not sentence you to jail, and instead places you on probation with the warning that any future violation is a felony punishable by mandatory prison time and a $10,000 fine.

Your happy, healthy, dearly-loved dog never returns home. The court awards her to the impounding agency, and she is sold to another family. Your indoor cat and parakeet are also confiscated on the day of your conviction. Your 14-year old cat doesn’t get a buyer and is euthanized after five days. Your parakeet dies at the shelter.

Because of your animal cruelty conviction, you are never allowed to own a pet again. Your children are devastated.

You are listed on an animal abuser registry and are prohibited from working around animals or children. Consequently, you are restricted to a desk job at work, demoted, and your salary is reduced.[6]

Your former dog escapes from the fence at her new owners’ house and is killed by a car.

All of this happens because your dog was outside in her escape-proof kennel, asleep on the porch of her weatherproof dog house, during a weather advisory.

Think it can’t happen to you?

Increasingly restrictive laws that allow the confiscation of animals and criminal charges against the owner are being enacted every day in states and communities across the U.S. You can be convicted of animal cruelty under these overreaching laws even when no animal is harmed.

And here’s another alarming fact:  In many states, if your pet is confiscated and you cannot afford to pay in advance each month for its costs of care, you lose ownership of your pet forever—before your case even goes to trial.

If you can afford to pay the costs of care, which may total thousands of dollars per pet per month, you don’t get that money back, even if the charges against you are dropped or you are found not guilty.

Read that again, in many places you must pay money and fees in advance every month for each day your pet remains impounded, even if you are determined to be innocent of all accusations. Often, the organization that lobbies for all these restrictive laws is the same organization that impounds your pet and asks for your trial to be delayed as they continue to be awarded the thousands of dollars you must pay each month for your pet’s costs of care.

Still think it can’t happen to you? Do you know what the laws are where you live? Do you know what new laws are being proposed, and who stands to profit if these laws are passed?

Don’t stand silent.

When overreaching and arbitrary animal laws are discussed or filed – speak out against them. Read every word of the proposed law, not just the title or the summary. If bad laws have already been enacted, demand that they be repealed.

It is up to constituents to take action. Hold your lawmakers accountable and make your voices heard.

Your pets and your families are counting on you.

[1] In June 2018, the City of Syracuse passed a law prohibiting a dog from being tethered in temperatures over 90 degrees or under 32 degrees. Those in violation of this law can face jail time and their dogs can be seized. It should be noted that in Syracuse, NY there is an average of 136 days with temperatures below freezing.

[2] In November 2018, Athens, Alabama amended their animal ordinance to set new parameters on kennel closures for dogs. An enclosure for a dog weighing under 30 pounds must be at least 100 square feet, while an enclosure for a dog weighing over 30 pounds must be at least 225 square feet. For comparison, the average square footage of a rental apartment inSeattle, Washington is 711 square feet.

[3] If you live in Pennsylvania, according to the Extreme Heat Protection Act into law your pet can be removed from your car if a police officer deems the temperatures unacceptable. However, in other states and municipalities, such as California,Colorado, and Florida, pets can be taken from a car by a regular citizen. This opens the door to a plethora of serious issues, including pet theft.

[4] In Marion County, Indiana, for example, your dog cannot be outside in the event of several weather advisories or warnings.

[5] In the last several years, many states, such as Montana and New Hampshire, have considered bills that would require pet owners to pay as much as $2,000 per animal while an is being held during a cruelty trial. If you are unable to pay this fee in advance, you forfeit your right to ownership even if you are later found innocent.

[6] In Tennessee, for example, those convicted of animal cruelty are placed on a registry where your picture, name, and address are listed for the public to see.