New Mexico's Pet Resource FALL/WINTER 2001


ANIMALS AND THE LAW

ABUSE AND NEGLECT DEFINED

Q: What should I do if I see an animal that is being abused or neglected?

A: It is always upsetting to see an animal that is abused or neglected. What one should do in this situation is a question I am often asked. This question will be answered in two parts.

First let's address what constitutes animal abuse or neglect under the law in New Mexico. While many of us see a dog outside in a yard in all kinds of weather, we might see that as abuse. To most people, myself included, our pets and animals are members of the family. It hurts to see other people treat their animals differently. But the law in New Mexico defines two levels of cruelty to animals.

Extreme Cruelty is defined as "intentionally or maliciously torturing, mutilating, injuring or poisoning an animal, or maliciously killing an animal." This level of cruelty is terrible to witness, but easy to identify. If a person is found guilty of Extreme Cruelty, it is a felony conviction and can result in time in state prison.

It is the lesser level of abuse that is harder to define for many people. If the conduct is of a less serious nature, it is defined in the laws as "negligently mistreating, injuring, killing without lawful justification or tormenting an animal." The law goes on to say that cruelty is also "abandoning or failing to provide necessary sustenance to an animal under that person's custody or control".

For the average person what is chargeable or unlawful cruelty is difficult to understand. For example, if someone leaves their dog in the yard all the time, and it has water and food, it would not be cruelty under the law. The issue of shelter is harder to deal with since it is not set out in the law. Depending on the circumstances, one might argue that not providing shelter is mistreatment, but in most cases lack of shelter would not be a case that could be charged.

The good news for those who have access to good animal control or law enforcement is that the public can call them and ask them to make the determination. However, this is not always successful, and often leaves a citizen feeling nothing is being done.

In the next column we will discuss what people can do if they see something they believe to be cruelty, and we will discuss how someone can make a record that will help in prosecuting a case of animal abuse. This record can be given to animal control and/or law enforcement to help in getting a case charged and prosecuted.

Theresa Welch is a former criminal prosecutor with 20 years experience in animal cruelty cases in both New Mexico and California. She was instrumental in the passage of the felony cruelty bill passed by the legislature in 1991, and continues to advise people throughout the state on issues relating to animal cruelty.


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