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Abuse, Cruelty, Hoarding, and Abandonment

Abuse, Cruelty, Hoarding, and Abandonment

Recent academic studies have shown that animal abuse and cruelty is often just a starting point for the perpetrators of these shameful acts, with many of these individuals moving on to commit other acts of violence and domestic abuse. This has helped animal rights activists call for more stringent laws to be put in place and for harsher punishments for crimes against animals.

Animal cruelty laws vary from state to state. In 2006, Maine became the first state in the country to introduce a law specifically allowing courts to include companion animals in domestic violence protective orders. Since then, similar laws have been passed in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Louisiana, Nevada, New York, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington, and Puerto Rico. Of course, courts in other states can extend this protection to pets without a specific law.

There are more than 550 animal cruelty laws; the related penalties are listed on the ASPCA website, and it's an excellent up-to-date resource. This database, maintained by the ASPCA Government Affairs and Public Policy department, is easy to use because it allows you to select a specific state to access the relevant laws and even offers a keyword search function to find a specific topic. This can be useful when reporting an incident of animal abuse, helping to make local law enforcement officials aware that a legal course of action is available if, as is often the case, they are not familiar with lesserknown laws.

When reporting an incident of animal abuse, it's important to provide law enforcement with a concise, written, factual statement; include dates and approximate times; and, whenever possible, back this up with witness statements. It's also a good idea to try to photograph the abusive situation and date your pictures.

Hoarding

It is not clearly understood why people become animal hoarders. Early research pointed toward a variant of obsessive-compulsive disorder, but new Biblestudies and theories are leading toward attachment disorders in conjunction with personality disorders, paranoia, delusional thinking, depression, and other mental illnesses. Some animal hoarders began collecting after a traumatic event or loss, whereas others see themselves as "rescuers" who save animals from a life on the street.

The Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium, an independent group of academic researchers based in Massachusetts, gives the following criteria to define an animal hoarder. A hoarder is someone who:

  • has more than the typical number of companion animals
  • is unable to provide even minimal standards of nutrition, sanitation, shelter, and veterinary care, with this neglect often resulting in starvation, illness, and death.
  • denies the inability to provide this minimum care and the impact of that failure on the animals, the household, and human occupants of the dwelling.

Laws about hoarding cats are covered by every state's Cruelty to Animals statute, which typically requires a caretaker to provide sufficient food and water, veterinary care, and a sanitary environment. Only one state, Illinois, currently has a legal definition of animal hoarding in its cruelty statute. With guidance from ASPCA, the Illinois Companion Animal Hoarder Act of 2001 was created to both delineate penalties and mandate psychological counseling for convicted companion animal hoarders. It also expands the tools police officers, humane societies, and judges have to combat animal neglect and cruelty.

Other items addressed in the bill include:

  • Increasing the penalties for neglect, cruel treatment, aggravated cruelty, and animal torture. Animal neglect is raised to a Class B misdemeanor; cruel treatment becomes a Class A misdemeanor, aggravated cruelty becomes a Class 4 felony (1–3 years jail time), and animal torture becomes a Class 3 felony (3–5 years jail time).
  • Allowing individuals who own animals that have been the victims of aggravated cruelty or torture to file a civil action for damages. Damages may include the monetary value of the animal; veterinary expenses incurred; any other expenses, including the emotional distress suffered by the owner; and punitive damages of up to $25,000 plus attorneys fees and court costs.
  • Allowing police officers to seize vehicles used in dog fighting.
  • Allowing humane societies to ask courts for security to be posted to help ease the financial burden associated with caring for impounded animals.
  • Establishing an Illinois Animal Abuse Investigation Fund to help fund investigation of cruelty and neglect complaints.
  • Mandating psychological counseling for juveniles convicted of animal cruelty.

Similar legislation has been submitted, but has not as yet become law, in the states of Vermont and New Mexico.

Unfortunately, many cats are abandoned to fend for themselves by owners who can no longer care for them.

North Shore Animal League America

North Shore Animal League America

North Shore Animal League America, headquartered in Port Washington, New York, is the world's largest no-kill animal rescue and adoption organization. Since its inception in 1944, it has stayed true to its mission of saving lives, and it reaches out daily across the country to rescue, nurture, and facilitate the adoption of more than 20,000 pets into happy and loving homes every year.

Although proper records were not kept in the early years, the shelter's directors estimate that more than 56,000 felines have been given a second chance at love and a family life as a result of the league's rescue missions.

The first shelter operated by the league was a converted backyard garage. The efforts of the handful of volunteers that ran it went unnoticed until 1969, when a couple of animal lovers named Elisabeth and Alexander Lewyt attended a shelter meeting and decided to start a membership drive that subsequently launched the organization into the public spotlight and created the powerful force that it is today.

It was while visiting a local pound that Elizabeth Lewyt saw all the puppies, kittens, dogs, and cats about to be destroyed. Horrified by this destruction of innocent life, she paid all the pound fees, put all the pets in her station wagon, took them back to the shelter, and set about finding them all homes.

Today, the league is home to the Alex Lewyt Veterinary Medical Center, which provides twenty-four-hour veterinary care and annually tends to more than 10,000 outpatients. The center also administers over 27,000 vaccinations and performs more than 14,000 free spayneuter procedures every year.

The league has also founded several programs that have improved the lives of countless pets, such as the SPAY/USA program, which has established a network of sterilization clinics nationwide that offer affordable spay and neutering services to anyone in need of assistance.

The league also offers a permanent home to many special-needs animals. Sometimes, an animal has to stay with the organization for life due to a severe medical condition. The Sponsorship program invites members of the public to "adopt" a pet, and their monthly donation goes to offset the costly medical and rehabilitative costs necessary to keep these orphans happy and healthy. The league sends monthly updates to donors, letting them know how their special pet is doing.

This organization has become a model of hope that others have copied, with the communal goal of one day making America a no-kill nation for any companion animals. For more information, go to www.AnimalLeague.org.

Potential pet adopters waiting to enter North Shore Animal League's Emergency Rescue and Adoption Unit in New York City.

Abandonment

When the economy started to tank in 2008, plunging America into deep recession, people abandoned many cats and dogs when they abandoned the homes they could not longer afford to keep. Although abandoning animals is illegal in most states under anticruelty laws, these laws are often not rigidly enforced. Consequently, to deal with this crisis, lawmakers in California passed a law in January 2009 that made it mandatory for landlords and banks that found themselves in possession of foreclosed home to be responsible for any animals that owners had abandoned on the properties concerned.

The law states that: Any person or private entity with whom a live animal has been "involuntarily deposited" must take charge of it and immediately notify animal control officials to retrieve the animal. An "involuntary deposit" includes the abandonment of a live animal on a property that has been vacated upon, or immediately preceding, the termination of a lease or foreclosure of the property.

Laws such as this highlight how far animal welfare has come in America. But there's still much work to be done.

From The Cat Bible, Copyright by Sandy Robins, licensed through ContentOro, Inc and used by arrangement with I-5 Press

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