Animal cruelty law vague

Published 7:00 am Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Board of Supervisors and county officials said they recognize the need for a stronger animal control ordinance and state law to protect the welfare of all animals in Pearl River County.

The supervisors discussed the current ordinances and laws after a group of relators and business owners notified them about the neglect witnessed throughout the county.

Supervisors Sandy Kane Smith and Ed Pinero, Pearl River County Director of Planning and Development, researched the current laws in place before the group approached the board on Wednesday.

Both said the state law is very vague on the definition of neglect and shelter and how counties are able to enforce the laws.

Smith and Pinero cited an example that occurred a few years ago when the vagueness of the law hurt an animal cruelty case.

The case began when Smith received a complaint from someone in McNeill about a dead animal smell coming from the neighbor’s yard. Smith and the sheriff’s department investigated the smell and found several dogs tied to a gas pump without food or water.

The dogs had been abandoned by their owner, resulting in the death of some of the dogs and the emaciation of others, Smith said. Only one dog survived and was adopted by a family in Jackson.

When the case was brought to trial, the judge ruled the dog was not neglected and returned it to the original owner, Smith said.

“Everyone from the county to the sheriff’s department did everything correct but the judge had no choice but to give the dog back to the owners because of a lack of definition,” Pinero said.

Smith said the way the situation in the county can be improved is through enforcement of current ordinances and laws, which includes a leash law.

“If we don’t enforce it, it’s going to be weak,” Smith said.

Chief Deputy Shane Tucker with the sheriff’s department said deputies do enforce the leash law, which states that no animal can be off a leash outside of an owner’s property.

Smith and Pinero said the group coming before the board was a good thing because it brings attention to the issue and keeps discussion about the issue alive.

Tucker said the sheriff’s department would like to see a county animal control officer hired because deputies respond daily to animal calls and spend a lot of time on animal cases.