By Sean Barron
A dog left outdoors in extreme weather may raise the concern and ire of many, but does that by itself constitute animal abuse or neglect?
Possibly, depending on a host of other factors such as whether adequate food, water and shelter are provided, an attorney and animal-cruelty expert contends.
“If it’s not adequate, humane agents should act,” said Matt Ditchey, who also is a board member with Angels for Animals.
He was among the estimated 40 law-enforcement personnel, humane agents and others who attended Friday’s animal-law seminar at Angels for Animals, 4750 W. South Range Road (state Route 165 in Green Township), to learn more about state laws pertaining to abuse and neglect of companion and noncompanion animals.
Companion animals are those kept inside a residential dwelling, including dogs and cats; noncompanion ones are those meant to be outdoors, such as livestock and wild animals.
Ditchey noted that animals must have adequate shelter, which varies depending on conditions such as weather. An igloo-shaped plastic doghouse, for example, is fine on a 70-degree spring day but inadequate in extreme heat and cold, he explained.
Conducting the seven-hour workshop was Atty. J. Jeffrey Holland of Medina, who has prosecuted hundreds of animal-cruelty cases throughout Ohio.
Holland, an adjunct professor at Case Western Reserve University’s School of Law, stressed that those alleging abuse, torture or neglect must show the act was done negligently, knowingly and recklessly.
The most-used definition of the state’s animal-cruelty law defines animal cruelty as “every act, omission or neglect by which unnecessary or unjustifiable pain or suffering is caused, permitted or allowed to continue where there is a reasonable remedy or relief,” Holland noted.
For example, excessively beating or kicking a dog without cause would be considered cruelty. On the other hand, using reasonable corporal punishment for training purposes without causing observable harm or pain likely would not, he pointed out.
Prosecutions are difficult because animals are considered property, and the vast majority of such cases are neglect against one’s own animals. In addition, most acts are committed behind closed doors, Holland continued.
“They’re super hard to catch,” he said, adding that illegal dog-fighting makes up the largest number of felony cases prosecuted in the state.
Other topics the seminar covered were penalties for offenders, search-and-seizure guidelines, veterinarians’ role in animal-cruelty cases and criminal-liability issues.
Holland also co-wrote a version of House Bill 274, known as Goddard’s Law, which passed the Ohio House of Representatives and is pending in the Senate.
The bill is named in honor Dick Goddard, longtime Cleveland broadcaster and animal-rights advocate. It makes a first offense of knowingly killing or injuring companion animals such as dogs and cats or deliberately depriving them of food, water and shelter a fifth-degree felony punishable by six months to one year in jail.
Holland said anyone who wants to have a pet must accept the responsibility that goes with it.
“Possessing an animal is a responsibility and a privilege,” Holland said, adding that he also wants to see a greater amount of support for local humane agents and societies, and that animal-cruelty laws should be balanced with those pertaining to humans.