Sunday, September 04, 2005

Justice for companion animals

An opinion piece in today's Albany Democrat-Herald (Or.) is full of recommendations on how to reform a "tangle of laws that are well-intended but mired in a grim reality that seldom results in justice for pet owners." The starting point is somewhat technical for an op-ed piece--what is the difference between intent requirements among cruelty offenses? What separates an act done "cruelly" from one done "maliciously"? Adverbs can be a problem in both excusing painful acts (when the statute only covers "unjustifiable" acts) and in providing a grounds for challenge that a statute is unconstitutionally vague.

The editorial's solution to the cruelty problem: greater funding, mandatory spay/neuter, greater licensing of breeders and trappers. It also proposes a greater role for people who keep companion animals:

Finally, grieving pet owners should be given the chance to address those convicted of animal cruelty, in court. Amanda Rhoads, who adopted Fiona [a companion cat killed by a neighbor with a bow and arrow] as a kitten, should have the chance to tell her cat's killer what it's like to lose her pet to someone else's cruel act.

Oregon law appears to broadly allow the victim or next of kin to participate in the sentencing phase of a trial. Would that statute allow someone who kept a companion animal to make a statement during sentencing? A Tennessee court recently allowed a victim statement submitted by a local humane society in a case against kennel proprietors. State v. Johnson, No. W2001-01272-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Crim. App. 2002). It seems natural that animal victims of cruelty should be allowed to have their human companions testify on their behalf.