Animal Cruelty and Neglect

The establishment of the Animal Rescue League of Boston (ARL), shortly after the humane protection movement took hold in the United States in the mid-1800’s, provides ARL with a unique perspective.  ARL has been intimately involved in the fight against animal abuse from its earliest days.  For well over a century, ARL has fought for recognition that animal abuse and neglect is a serious societal issue affecting both people and animals.  Today, the study of animal abuse is firmly entrenched in any discussion of interpersonal violence and violence towards animals.  Animal abuse intersects with multiple disciplines including medicine, law, psychology, environmental sciences, and mental health.

Of course there is no single root cause of abuse and, consequently, no single or easy solution.  Throughout the years humane organizations, law enforcement personnel, and the judicial system have struggled with ways to correctly and adequately address the origins and dangers of animal abuse and neglect. There have been changes in the law to reflect the seriousness of the acts of abuse and neglect including felony charges; changes in investigative techniques to investigate and detect harm; and changes in the law enforcement response to crimes which involve both inter-personal violence and animal violence.  All of these changes are essential to the successful prevention and detection of animal cruelty.  But the landscape of humane protection is still changing and there is still much room for improvement.

ARL has fought tirelessly on multiple fronts when dealing with cruelty and neglect.  The range of its activities to spotlight abuse and neglect casts a wide net including educational campaigns to bring animal issues to the forefront for the public and pet owners; assistance with all issues that may impact surrender and/or abandonment of animals; behavioral training; and veterinary care.

With respect to the current status of the law, ARL agrees the felony charge in the main Massachusetts anti-cruelty statute located at M.G.L. c. 272 §77 is of the utmost importance and that it serves to underscore the seriousness of the acts.  However, having only a felony charge can also act as a barrier to those animal abuse matters that may not rise to a felony level.  The absence of a lesser provision in the anti-cruelty statutes has resulted in non-prosecution of some cases or a much-diminished sentence in other prosecutions.

There are few, if any, statutory definitions within Massachusetts law, leading to reliance on court decisions which are not always available to those who struggle to answer the question of whether the acts are sufficient to form a charge under the statute or not.  This struggle can lead to uncertainty which, in turn, can lead to inaction.

With respect to sexual abuse, the language is vague and out of date to the point of being dangerously unconstitutional.  There are no enhancements provided for the dissemination of videos or photos or for acts which are done in the presence of others, including minors, for any purpose including intimidation, extortion and harassment.

Animal hoarding has been found to be included in the general statute but it is not specifically mentioned or defined.   There is a general lack of knowledge — and even less in the way of services — with respect to the mental health issues often present in animal hoarding situations.

Finally, when animals are seized as a result of animal cruelty, neglect, hoarding or fighting charges, they are often kept in a legal limbo while a case slowly wends its way through the court system.  Even the most serious of animal cruelty cases can take years to resolve.  Generally, the court dockets are crowded and do not appear to place great emphasis upon speedy disposition of these matters.  As a result of the long pre-trial period, animals remain with humane organizations that bear the financial and emotional burden of care.  ARL supports any measure which will ensure a swift and just disposition of these matters.  The need to hold animals as “evidence” is both unnecessary and harmful.   Measures such as  a designated docket for an animal cruelty case  and requiring prompt forensic evaluations to be completed within 30 days might alleviate the need to hold animals for long periods of time in many cases. Another avenue such as possible disposition of ownership of the animal by a civil forfeiture procedure might also ease the burden.

ARL believes that the best response to animal abuse and neglect is a multi-disciplinary approach with increased public awareness; strong laws to cover the entire spectrum of abuse and neglect; knowledgeable veterinarians and law enforcement personnel to correctly detect criminal activity and assist in the prosecution; and knowledgeable district attorneys and judges whose prosecutions and sentences reflect both the seriousness and horror of animal abuse.

As a result, ARL will:

  • Develop and recommend changes in the current anti-cruelty statute to include, among other things, the addition of a misdemeanor and/or lesser included charges;
  • Develop and recommend changes in the current animal sexual abuse statute so it includes, clear and concise elements that meet general constitutional standards; and  where appropriate, lesser included charges and sentencing enhancements to address;
  • Develop and recommend sentencing enhancements in all types of abuse and neglect cases to address cases of domestic abuse, child abuse and elder abuse;
  • Develop and recommend establishment of animal hoarding as a separate and distinct crime with a mandatory mental health evaluation and protocol;
  • Develop and recommend a procedure for civil forfeiture as a potential and separate disposition with respect to any animal seized as a result of animal abuse or neglect;
  • Encourage the establishment of an expedited timetable in any criminal case involving animals which mandates that the defense must promptlyconductanyexamination ofthe liveanimal;
  • Encourage the establishment of a specialsessionforcrueltycasestoassistinthepromptschedulingofpre-trial hearings, motions, and trials.
  • Encourage and participate in training programs for those persons who work in the criminal justice system.

Click here to read more ARL Policy and Position Statements.