Animal Rights Victory

[Content Note: Animal cruelty.]

Earlier this year, we reached an important milestone when South Dakota became the final state in the US to enact a felony provision for animal cruelty. And now Oregon is leading the way in legally recognizing that animals, even if they are still considered property, can be victims.
In two landmark rulings earlier this month, the Oregon Supreme Court said that animals -- whether they be horses, goats, dogs or cats -- shall be afforded some of the same basic protections as human beings.

The dual rulings are expected to make it easier for police to rush to the aid of ailing animals without first obtaining a warrant. They also could result in harsher criminal repercussions for those found guilty of abusing or neglecting animals.

"These are hugely helpful to the prosecution of animal-cruelty cases," said Jacob Kamins, a Corvallis-based prosecutor assigned to pursuing such cases across Oregon.

Specifically, in State v. Arnold Nix, the supreme court ruled that a Umatilla County man who was convicted of starving 20 horses and goats on his property could be sentenced -- not just on one count of second-degree animal neglect -- but on 20 different counts, meaning each animal counted as a separate "victim."

...In State vs. Linda Fessenden and Teresa Dicke, the supreme court found that a sheriff's deputy was legally justified in 2010 in rushing onto a Douglas County pasture to get medical help for a horse that was so malnourished every one of its ribs was showing. The state's high court ruled that the deputy, who thought the horse was in immediate danger of falling and dying, didn't need a warrant to step onto private property and get the animal to a veterinarian.

...The high court agreed that animals are still defined by law as "property." But the court ruled that the deputy didn't violate the constitutional search and seizure rights of its two owners because "exigent circumstance" existed -- that is that swift action was required to prevent harm to people or to property.

...In making its findings -- some of the strongest favoring animal rights to date -- the high court noted how Oregon law is evolving to reflect the sentiments of society in general.

..."To acknowledge that animals are victims of crime, that's really common sense to us," said Lora Dunn, staff attorney for the Animal Legal Defense Fund in Portland.
This is very good news indeed for animals, and for the humans who care about them.

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