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  Saturday, July 15th, 2017


  DoveLewis Emergency Animal Hospital  |  Community Room (upstairs)


In this talk, we learned how animals are treated under the law and how animal cruelty is defined and prosecuted.   


It was a perfect summer’s day here in Portland as we gathered for a brand-new topic – Animals and the Law. 

Distinctions and Differences: Situating Animals Within the Law

rosengard headshotDavid Rosengard, a Staff Attorney with the Animal Legal Defense Fund, kicked us off with an overview of how animals have historically been treated within the law, where they stand today, and how we are gradually changing some long-standing legal traditions.

Finding Animals in Law

It may be simply stated that animals are the property of humans.  But when is anything truly simple in today’s justice system?  Although animals have property status, the law also grants that they are distinct from other material property – they are living creatures, and many have emotional value to humans which eclipses their monetary worth.  A new dog of equal value does not replace a lost loved one.

To determine an individual animal’s position within the law, we must first define its relationship to humans.  David used a mouse as an example – this creature may be defined in relation to humans in several ways, and each carries different connotations for the animal’s legal status:

  1. Wild creature – protected under wildlife laws
  2. Vermin or pest – almost no legal protection
  3. Domestic pet – subject to personal property laws
  4. Research subject – protected against harm only if it is outside the parameters of the study
  5. Product – its very genetic code may be considered property

Our interpretation of property laws as they apply to animals is gradually evolving beyond purely monetary value, but it has been a long road, with many miles yet to go. 



Valuing Animals

David explains that the justice system likes monetary value.  It is a clear and easy way to assess damages and award compensation.  For centuries, horses were the linchpin to commerce, an absolute necessity for human survival.  In a legal dispute, the animal’s value was easily monetized by the real or potential loss of income, or the cost to buy and train the horse to do its job.

But how can we apply the same metrics to the value of a dog?  Except for herding and working dogs, they are rarely a necessity for commerce.  In the case of companions and pets, their purchase price is often less than $100, a claim for which wouldn’t even make it into court.

How We Got Here & Where We Are Going

The key to our perspective with regards to animal property is that, as a nation, we have declared emotional trauma to be legally relevant.  David reviewed some important cases in Oregon and other states which have advanced the station of companion animals within the law. 

Barking Hound Village v. Monyak – GEORGIA: Assigned a dollar amount for the emotional value of a companion pet.

Clark v. Johnson Brothers – OREGON: A rancher’s three protection dogs were shot and killed by hunters in the area.  He was awarded not only the replacement cost of the dogs, but also emotional and punitive damages.

State v. Nix – OREGON:  Anti-Merger Statute: ORS § 161.067(2)
“When the same conduct or criminal episode … violating only one statutory provision involves two or more victims, there are as many separately punishable offenses as there are victims”

State v. Fessenden – OREGON: Both the Court of Appeals and the Oregon Supreme Court support aiding animals under existing Emergency Aid laws, if exigent circumstances (such as immediate threat to the animal’s life) exist.

State v. Newcomb – OREGON: Performing medical tests on a confiscated pet does not constitute illegal search and seizure.

ALASKA recently amended its divorce statutes, instructing judges to consider the wellbeing of the pet when deciding which partner receives custody.

David closed with some advice for keeping our justice system moving in the right direction - advocate, educate, and vote.

David and Nicole


Animal Cruelty Laws

Jergovic 047 WEB

Next up, Nicole Jergovic, Deputy District Attorney for Multnomah County, addressed the criminal legal implications of animal abuse and neglect, keeping in mind that the same type of animal may be protected differently depending on its relationship with humans – for example, causing pain to a research subject may not be considered cruelty if the stated parameters of the study include pain response.

She defined some of the key words and phrases which determine the application of charges – in order of most to least severe:

Intentional: Acting with a conscious objective to cause a particular result or engage in particular conduct.

Knowingly: Acting with an awareness that conduct is of a particular nature or that a particular circumstance exists

Recklessly: Consciously disregarding a substantial and unjustifiable risk that a particular result will occur or that a circumstance exists.

With Criminal Negligence: Failing to be aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that a particular result will occur or that a circumstance exists

There are four basic categories of animal abuse: Affirmative Acts of Abuse, Abandonment, Neglect, and Fighting.

Affirmative Acts of Abuse

1st Degree Intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causing serious physical injury, or death.

2nd Degree Intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causing physical injury.

Generally speaking, animal abuse is considered a Class A misdemeanor, but may be a Class C felony if the defendant has specific prior convictions, or the acts were considered aggrivated or knowingly committed in the presence of a minor.

Activities considered exempt from these laws are:

  • Animals subject to “good animal husbandry” (meat production and dairy)
  • Killing in compliance with humane slaughter law (meat production)
  • Scientific research
  • Hunting/fishing/trapping
  • Wildlife management


“Intentionally, knowingly, recklessly or with criminal negligence leaving a domestic animal or equine at location without providing “minimum care” (no defense to do this at vet clinic or shelter w/o first making arrangements for care).”

This offense is considered a Class B misdemeanor.  Nicole shared an example of a cat named Milagro who had been left with paltry accommodations in a storage unit.


Failing to Provide Minimum Care

Care sufficient to preserve the health and well-being of an animal, and except for emergencies or circumstances beyond the reasonable control of the owner, included but it not limited to: food, water, shelter*, veterinary care, exercise area, reasonable temperatures, reasonably cleanliness.

1st Degree causing injury or death (Class A misdemeanor)

2nd Degree failing to provide minimum care, no injury required (Class B misdemeanor)

Neglect includes puppy mills, animal hoarding, and even the owner’s back yard, if the pet is left unattended and uncared for.

Dog Fighting

This category is a Class C felony,

Intentionally or Knowingly owns, possesses, keeps, breeds, trains, buys, sells or offers to sell “fighting dog”;

(b) promotes, conducts, or participates in dog fight;

(c) manages admission to a fight;

(d) allows fight on one’s land or in one’s building

Offenses may also include,

Possession of dogfighting paraphernalia ORS 167.372 (Class C felony) possess with intent to use to train a fighting dog:

  • break stick
  • springpole
  • cat mill
  • tread mill
  • fighting pit
  • 2” wide or wider collars
  • weighted chains
  • unprescribed vet medications

Dog fighting is also frequently associated with a host of other crimes such as restricted weapons, drugs, gambling, money laundering, endangering the welfare of minors, and R.I.C.O.

The Procedure

When a report is made, authorities will gather witness statements, which may include written accounts, photographs, or diagrams.  They will then proceed with their own investigation to gather evidence.

Things start to get dicey when it’s time to prosecute.  It is easy to imagine your run-of-the-mill animal abuser as an ugly, disturbed, evil person, but they are often people we would least suspect – the elderly, children, single parents, even those who are otherwise unfailingly good.

It can also be difficult to identify the guilty party – is it one spouse or the other?  The babysitter?  How about the housekeeper, roommates, friends, or relatives?  While it is often clear that animal cruelty has occurred, holding someone ultimately responsible can be a convoluted process, to say the least.

What Can I Do?

Nicole advises us to be patient and persistent.  Some authorities may overlap, but they don’t necessarily talk to each other, so reporting to multiple organizations ensures that the first available acts.

Here are some resources to keep close at hand:

  • 911 - crime in progress
  • (503) 823-3333 - Portland non-emergency
  • (503) 988-7387 - Multnomah County Animal Services
  • (503) 285-7722, ext. 214 - Oregon Humane Investigations
  • – online reporting

Nicole closed with very similar advice to David’s – our communities have immense power when we organize and work together.  We can stop animal cruelty, enact more effective laws, and advocate for our furry friends who cannot do so for themselves.