Officers learn to enforce animal cruelty laws and detect offenses
Published 7:00 am Thursday, July 24, 2014
Local law enforcement agencies attended a training session Tuesday to learn about responding to and enforcing animal cruelty laws.
Sgt. Ken Sullivan with the Rankin County Sheriff’s Department presented the officers from several law enforcement agencies with information about the current laws, and their history.
Some laws, such as the cock fighting law listed under statute 97-41-11, were originally passed more than 100 years ago and have not been changed since.
Sullivan said the cockfighting law has not been changed since it was passed in 1880 so the fine is still the same, not less than $10 but not more than $100.
“In 1880 that was a lot of money,” Sullivan said.
However some laws have changed in recent years. One law, 97-41-1 includes all animals and was changed in 2011 due to a case that began in Pearl River County involving horses seized due to chronic injury. That case prompted the state to add the terms “intentional” and “with criminal neglect” to the law.
Sullivan said criminal neglect is determined by the court, but typically involves looking at an action compared to what an ordinary person would do in the same situation. He used the example of an animal in need of medical attention; an ordinary person would bring the animal to a veterinarian for care. If that action was not taken, criminal neglect would be established.
Dogs and cats, however, fall under a separate law, 97-41-16.
In instances of animal hording, there is an problem with the law. Sullivan said when a person is found to be neglecting multiple animals at the same time, law enforcement is restricted to only being able to file one charge against the suspect. Sullivan disagrees with this aspect of the law.
“If you assault 15 people, you will face 15 assault charges,” Sullivan said.
He advised officers to look for the presence of food and especially water. Not just any kind of water, potable water. Sullivan said animals can survive longer without food than they can drinkable water. An animal needs 1 gallon of drinkable water per day for every 100 pounds of body weight.
Officers should also look for the presence of proper shelter if the animal is kept outside. Proper shelter should entail at least three walls, a roof and a floor. Anything made of metal is not proper shelter since it will heat up in the Mississippi summer sun, Sullivan said.
Of the domesticated animals people care for, the cat is the least domesticated, Sullivan said. Goats are second on that list. He said if a cat is kept outside, it will become feral faster than any other animal, making it harder to prosecute potential neglect.
The neglect of dogs, however, is easier to prosecute because they will not become feral as quickly as cats.
During the presentation, Sullivan showed attendees a video of a case that the Humane Society worked in Mississippi involving a total of 236 animals ranging from horses, dogs, cats and goats. In the video it was evident the animals were not being cared for; many animals that had recently died were simply covered with a tarp and left near the cages of live animals.
Signs of animal neglect can include flinching, shaking, crying, loss of appetite and unnecessary panting. Animals may also display psychological effects from neglect, such as repeated or seemingly mindless movements such as circling and abnormal timidity, aggression or vocalization, according to Sullivan’s presentation.
Later in the presentation Sullivan covered the signs of animal fighting, which a trained officer can detect much like the presence of a methamphetamine lab.
He said it is a felony to host, participate or even view organized animal fighting.
He said many times instances of animal neglect also lead to the discovery of other crimes, such as drug offenses or child neglect.
Humane Society Mississippi State Director Lydia Sattler said the agency has been providing these presentations to law enforcement agencies all over the state for the past three years.
If an agency is interested in hosting or sending officers to a presentation they can contact her office at 228-216-6627.