Reporting Suspected Equine Abuse and Neglect

Our gorgeous, healthy Morgan stallion, Desi, is clearly not abused or neglected as this blog post photo clearly shows, but I am sad to report calls to my law practice for advice on how to report suspected equine abuse and neglect is on the rise. These concerned citizens are looking for legal advice on how to address this issue from a private, civil law suit perspective. However, under most circumstances, cases of equine abuse and neglect are wrongs against the State and as such are criminal prosecutions.

The following sections of the Animal Cruelty statute would most commonly apply in the equine context:  “Any person who shall … deprive any such animal of necessary food, drink, shelter, or veterinary care to prevent suffering; or who shall cause, procure or permit any such animal to be … deprived of necessary food, drink, shelter, or veterinary care to prevent suffering; or who shall willfully set on foot, instigate, engage in, or in any way further any act of cruelty to any animal, or any act tending to produce such cruelty, shall be guilty of a felony and shall be punished by imprisonment in the State Penitentiary not exceeding five (5) years, or by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding one (1) year, or by a fine not exceeding Five Thousand Dollars ($5,000.00). Any animal so maltreated or abused shall be considered an abused or neglected animal.”  Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. 21, § 1685.

To report a suspected animal abuse case, one should contact local law enforcement.

After the report is made to law enforcement, generally a warrant to enter upon the land to investigate the claim of equine abuse and neglect will be necessary. DiCesare v. Stuart, 12 F.3d 973, 978 (10th Cir. 1993). There are exceptions to obtaining a search warrant but that discussion is beyond the scope of this article. In most case, if a warrant is not first obtained, an unlawful search and seizure claim can be asserted (United States 4th Amendment violation) which would taint the removal of the equines and call into question the legitimacy of law enforcements actions. To avoid a 4th Amendment violation claim, a warrant should be obtained first.

To further encourage reporting and combat animal cruelty, Oklahoma law also protects veterinarians from civil liability for reporting suspected animal abuse so long as the report is made in good faith. More precisely veterinarians are required to report suspected animal abuse to authorities within 24 hours of “of any examination or treatment administered to any animal which the veterinarian reasonably suspects and believes has been abused.” Okla. Stat. tit. 21, § 1680.3. While other states have lagged behind in protecting veterinarians from civil liability, Oklahoma has had this immunity in place since 2006.

Above I stated that equine abuse and neglect cases are generally criminal wrongs and prosecuted by the State of Oklahoma. However, there could be scenarios where it may be both a criminal and civil wrong. For example, if the abused and neglected equine is not owned by the accused but rather the equine is owned by a 3rd party, then in that scenario the State of Oklahoma could pursue criminal charges against the accused and the 3rd party owner could also pursue civil causes of action for injury to his or her personal property.

In closing, a word of caution is in order. Poor body condition does not necessarily mean the equine is being abused and neglected. First, age, poor dentation, metabolic disorders, and a variety of other medical conditions could be the cause of poor body condition. Second, sometimes best efforts to improve poor body condition fail, and it has nothing to do with being abused or neglected. Third, the determination of what is necessary food, water and shelter is a subjective determination and reasonable minds could differ on that. Bottom line is, if you reasonably believe an equine is being abused and neglected, call your local law enforcement agency.

This article does not constitute legal advice and is intended to be used for educational purposes only.

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