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Animal Cruelty Charges May Arise From Failing to Provide Appropriate Veterinary Treatment for a Sick Animal

March 26th, 2010 No comments

Could One Face Criminal Animal Cruelty Charges for Denying Medical Treatment to a Sick Dog?

Animal Cruelty Charges Arise from Refusing to Obtain Veteriary Care

In a recent case, a man in Tampa, Florida was arrested and charged with animal cruelty for allowing his two dogs to suffer life-threatening injury and disease and then refusing to obtain appropriate medical treatment for them. 

One of the dogs was struck by a car and injured, but the man failed to seek veterinary care for its wounds even after being advised by a doctor that the dog needed treatment.  The other dog was suffering from a potentially fatal uterine disease; however, the man refused to get care and treatment for her, resulting in the dog growing emaciated. 

The dogs were reported as being abandoned.  Following an investigation, the man, Peyman Boroujeni, was charged with two counts of third-degree cruelty to animals under Florida law.

Florida’s Felony Animal Cruelty Law

The crime with which Boroujeni was charged is third-degree felony cruelty to animals under section 828.12(2), Florida Statutues.  The statute provides:

A person who intentionally commits an act to any animal which results in the cruel death, or excessive or repeated infliction of unnecessary pain or suffering, or causes the same to be done, is guilty of a felony of the third degree.

Florida courts have emphasized that felony animal cruelty requires an intent to commit the act that results in the cruel death or excessive or repeated infliction of unnecessary pain or suffering.  The crime does not require an intent to cause the death or suffering, only the intent to commit the act that results in the death or unnecessary suffering of the animal. 

Accordingly, in order to convict a defendant of third-degree cruelty to animals in Florida, it is not necessary to prove that the man intended for the dogs to suffer.  The prosecution must merely prove that he intended to do the act (refusing to get medical treatment) that resulted in their unnecessary suffering.

Mere negligent behavior that results in the death or unnecessary suffering of an animal amounts to a first degree misdemeanor under section 828.12(1), Florida Statutes.

Third-degree cruelty to animals is punishable in Florida by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Disclaimer:  This article is in no way intended as legal advice.  For help with specific legal issues surrounding Florida’s animal cruelty laws, or the laws in your jurisdiction, please contact an attorney in your local area.

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Categories: Animal Cruelty Law

Who Gets Custody of the Dog When the Owners Divorce?

December 4th, 2009 7 comments

Divorce Laws in the U.S Treat Family Pets as Personal Property

Divorce Laws in the U.S Treat Family Pets as Personal Property

Doggie Custody, Visitation and Support?

As more and more people tend to view companion animals as members of the family, questions often arise about what might happen to a beloved family pet if its owners get divorced.

The fact is that even though many pet owners choose to personify their pets, and many people view their pets almost as children, the law in virtually all U.S. states views animals as mere personal property to be treated as such in the event of a divorce.

This means that divorce courts will typically not make decisions concerning ongoing obligations of pet custody, visitation and support as they do with children.  And, with very few exceptions, divorce courts will not make property distribution decisions concerning family pets with considerations of the “best interest” of the animal in mind.

Why Do Divorce Laws Treat Pets as Personal Property?

With so many people treating their pets as members of the family these days, why are divorce courts reluctant to treat the family dog as anything more than a piece of property when the pet’s “parents” divorce?  The Florida case of Ronald and Kathryn Bennett provides a good lesson.

In that case, the couple agreed to virtually all the issues involved in their divorce.  The only thing they could not agree on was who should get Roddy, the dog.  The trial court decided that Mr. Bennett should have possession of Roddy, and awarded Mrs. Bennett visitation with Roddy every other weekend and every other Christmas.

And then the real trouble began.

Custody Battle Over the Family Pet?

Custody Battle Over the Family Pet?

Mr. Bennett filed a motion for rehearing in the trial court claiming that Roddy was a premarital asset (that is, that Mr. Bennett owned Roddy prior to marrying Mrs. Bennett).  Mrs. Bennett filed, among other things, a motion for contempt of court asking that the court transfer custody of Roddy to her because Mr. Bennett was refusing to comply with the visitation schedule.

After hearing arguments, the trial court decided to change the visitation schedule to enable Mrs. Bennett to have Roddy every other month.

Pets Are Not Children, and the Courts Are Busy Enough Enforcing Child Custody Matters

The Bennett case ultimately made its way to Florida’s First District Court of Appeal.  That court reiterated that, in spite of the fact that many people consider pets to be members of the family, under Florida law, animals are personal property and there is no basis in the law for granting custody or visitation for personal property.

Acknowledging that some states have recognized a “special status” for family pets in divorce proceedings, the court said:

Determinations as to custody and visitation lead to continuing enforcement and supervision problems (as evidenced by the proceedings in the instant case).  Our courts are overwhelmed with the supervision of custody, visitation, and support matters related to the protection of our children.  We cannot undertake the same responsibility as to animals.

And with that, the appeals court sent the case back to the trial court to make a decision about Roddy consistent with Roddy’s status as personal property.

Divorce Settlement Agreements

Of course, divorcing couples may always reach their own agreements concerning how they will deal with the family pet.  A couple getting a divorce may seek the advice of divorce lawyers to draw up formal settlement agreements that specifically address issues of pet custody, visitation and support.

Whether and to what extent a court would step in to enforce those provisions in the event of future disagreements will depend upon whether the courts in the particular state view pets strictly as personal property.

Sources:  Bennett v. Bennett, 655 So. 2d 109 (Fla. 1st DCA 1995); T. Christopher Wharton, Fighting Like Cats and Dogs: The Rising Number of Custody Battles Over the Family Pet, 10 J.L. Fam. Stud. 433 (2008).

Additional Resources:  Filing for Divorce in Florida; Contested Divorce in Florida; How to Hire an Attorney

Disclaimer: This article is in no way intended as legal advice. For answers to questions related to specific legal issues, one should contact an attorney in one’s local area.

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Categories: Dogs and the Law

The Case Against Retractable Dog Leashes

November 24th, 2009 3 comments

Why Retractable Dog Leashes May Not Be Your Best Choice

Retractable Dog Leashes Are Not the Best Choice for Training or Safety

Retractable Dog Leashes Are Not the Best Choice for Training or Safety

The mere fact that retractable dog leashes have earned the love of personal injury attorneys and the ire of dog trainers should tell you something.

What is a Retractable Dog Leash?

A retractable dog leash is a leash that is supposed to allow the handler to be able to adjust the distance the dog is permitted to wander away.  The leash itself consists of either a very thin or a webbed cord that is commonly about 16 feet (5 m) or 30 feet (9 m) in length.  The handle is usually plastic and contains a mechanism that allows the dog handler to stop the extension of the leash by pressing a button on the handle.  A clip on the leash attaches to the dog’s collar.

A Classic, Sturdy Six-foot Dog Leash is Best

A Classic, Sturdy Six-foot Dog Leash is Best for Dog and Handler

What is Wrong with Retractable Dog Leashes?

Retractable leashes have two big strikes against them:

  • They are not effective for training one’s dog.
  • They pose serious safety issues for humans and dogs.

Retractable Dog Leashes are Ineffective Dog Training Tools

The very characteristic that makes retractable dog leashes seem so attractive to dog owners is what renders them ineffective as a dog training tool.  The flexible mechanism allows the dog to wander away from the handler up to the length of the leash fully extended.  This encourages the dog to stop paying attention to her handler and to pursue whatever interests her.

Theoretically, the handler need only push the button to stop the leash; however, when you’ve already lost the dog’s attention and focus, it may be difficult to “reel” her back in, particularly if she has scented something much more interesting to her than your commands.  The flexibility of the leash gives the dog the erroneous impression that she is the master of her own destiny on the walk.  If you want to effectively train the dog to focus on and follow your verbal and physical commands, allowing her this sort of freedom on the leash is not the way to do it.

Many retractable dog leashes have a locking feature that stops the leash at a certain length.  However, if the leash has gotten damp or is starting to wear out, the locking mechanism may be difficult to engage.

Retractable Dog Leashes Pose Safety Hazards for Dogs and Their Handlers

Consumer Reports notes that retractable leashes have caused cuts, burns and even amputations when the cord came in contact with skin or became wrapped around part of the owner or the dog.  According to the report:

In 2007 there were 16,564 hospital-treated injuries associated with leashes, according to Consumer Union’s analysis of statistics collected by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Of those, about 10.5 percent involved children 10 and younger; 23.5 percent involved injuries to the finger. The CPSC’s data does not parse the leashes into types but it’s likely that the amputations were caused by retractable leashes.

Other injuries have been reported as well.  For example, in September 2008, the Slydog brand retractable leash was recalled due to complaints that the metal clip would break and fly off.  A Texas teen has sued the manufacturer after the retractable leash she was using snapped back and punctured her eye.

Safety Tips for Using a Retractable Dog Leash

This Puppy is Better Off Without a Retractable Leash

This Puppy is Better Off Without a Retractable Leash

If you must use a retractable dog leash, keep the following safety tips in mind:

  • A retractable leash should be used, if at all, only on well-trained dogs that respond immediately to voice commands.
  • Make sure to use the appropriate size leash for your dog’s weight.
  • Check the locking mechanism prior to each use of the leash to ensure that it will engage instantly if needed.
  • Do not allow children to use the retractable leash.
  • Read and heed all manufacturer warnings for the leash.

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Irresponsible Dog Owners May Face Homicide Charges if Their Dog Kills Someone

November 23rd, 2009 2 comments

Florida Homicide Charges for Deadly Dog Attacks

Most dog owners keep dogs for companionship and try to be responsible about making sure their dogs are safe for other people to be around.  Under Florida dog bite law, if one’s dog bites or attacks someone, the dog owner may face civil liability and the dog may be designated as a “dangerous dog” for which the dog owner must make special arrangements.

Florida Dog Owners Could Face Homicide Charges for Deadly Dog Attacks

Florida Dog Owners Could Face Homicide Charges for Deadly Dog Attacks

Furthermore, there is a range of criminal liability the dog owner may face under certain circumstances if the dog injures someone.  In the most egregious cases, when the very worst happens and the dog kills someone, the dog owner may be charged with homicide.

The Robert Freeman Case

The Robert Freeman case is one of the more disturbing examples of a dog owner showing more than just a reckless disregard for the behavior of his dogs.

Robert Freeman lived in a mobile home in Citra, Florida, with six pit bull mix dogs.  His home was in a state of disrepair, with no electricity or water, and a hole in the front door where the door knob should have been.  He would tie off the door with electrical cord, but it still had a lot of “give” when pushed.  Neighbors would see Freeman’s dogs outside every day, and the dogs did not stay confined to Freeman’s property.

In January 2003, Charlie Sumpter was walking near Freeman’s property when the dogs charged from under Freeman’s mobile home and attacked, biting him numerous times.  Freeman came outside and pulled the dogs off Sumpter.  He became angry when Sumpter said he was going to seek medical attention for the bites.

In April 2003, Charlie Dennison was attacked on the street by three of Freeman’s dogs.  He was bitten on the calves, but managed to fight the dogs off.  Freeman came outside and said he thought the dogs were inside the house.

In September 2003, Jamal Williams was walking his dachshund on the street in front of Freeman’s home when six of Freeman’s dogs appeared and attacked the dachshund.  Williams tried to beat the dogs off with a stick, but they continued attacking.  Ultimately, the dogs stopped attacking and Williams took the dachshund to a veterinarian.  The next day, Freeman was angry because Williams’ grandmother reported the attack to animal control authorities.

In another incident in September 2003, Lorenzo Colding was attacked by six of Freeman’s dogs as he walked down the street near Freeman’s home.  All six dogs bit Colding.  Freeman came outside and called off the dogs.

In October 2003, Andrew Williams was walking near Freeman’s home when Freeman’s dogs came from Freeman’s yard and attacked him.  The dogs bit Williams several times before Freeman came outside and called them off.

In November 2003, Willy Clinton was walking on the street when Freeman’s dogs ran through Freeman’s front door and surrounded Clinton in a pack, threatening to attack.  Clinton was bitten on the thigh.  After 15 or 20 minutes, Freeman came outside and began petting and kissing his dogs.  Clinton admonished Freeman for “rewarding” the dogs for biting people and warned him that the dogs would eventually kill someone.

Just weeks later, on December 12, 2003, Freeman made a call to 911 stating he had just returned home from work to find his neighbor, Alice Broom, “almost dead” with a hole in her neck and the dogs still biting her.  Freeman told the 911 operator to call the “dog people” and admitted he should have gotten rid of the dogs long ago.

When paramedics arrived, they found Ms. Broom lying unconscious on the ground in the fetal position.  Half her clothes were strewn around the yard.  She had suffered massive bite wounds and was pronounced dead at the hospital.  The medical examiner found that the locations of some of her injuries were consistent with an attempt to curl up and try to defend herself against the attacks.  A forensic odontologist concluded that all six of Freeman’s dogs had attacked Ms. Broom.

Freeman was charged with, and ultimately convicted of, manslaughter by culpable negligence under Florida Statute § 782.07.

Manslaughter Charge for a Deadly Dog Attack

Freeman argued that he should have been charged with a second-degree misdemeanor under Florida’s Dangerous Dog Act instead of being charged under the homicide statute.  The appeals court disagreed.  The Dangerous Dog Act requires knowledge of the dog’s dangerous propensities and a reckless disregard for those propensities under the circumstances.

Manslaughter by culpable negligence, by contrast, requires more than knowledge of the dog’s dangerous propensities.  The manslaughter statute requires knowledge that the dog owner’s negligent act or omission is “likely to cause death or great bodily injury.”

If the dog owner knew that his dog had approached a person in a menacing fashion, the owner might have knowledge of the dog’s dangerous propensities, but not necessarily knowledge that his failure to keep the dog contained would be likely to cause death or great bodily injury, as is required for manslaughter.

In Robert Freeman’s case, the court concluded:

There was ample evidence that Freeman knew his dogs had escaped from his trailer and attacked passersby on several prior occasions. Yet on the day of Ms. Broom’s death, Freeman went to work, leaving his dogs free to escape and attack passersby, as they had done many times in the recent past.

Robert Freeman is currently serving more than 12 years in Florida State Prison.

Although this case is extreme, it should serve as a warning that Florida dog owners who know their dogs might kill, but who do not take steps to safeguard others, could face homicide charges if the dogs do kill someone.

Additional Resources:  How to Hire an Attorney, Florida’s Wrongful Death Act

Disclaimer:  This article is in no way intended as legal advice.  For help with specific legal issues surrounding Florida’s dog bite law, or the dog bite laws in your jurisdiction, please contact a dog bite attorney or criminal defense attorney in your local area.

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