You've heard people say, I wouldn't treat my dog like that let alone my ... child/husband/mother-in-law. You fill in the blank. It is usually a criticism of perceived substandard treatment of another person. It begs the question, however, what is considered an appropriate standard of care for man's best friend.
You may be aware of an animal living tied to a clothesline, pole or stake, or simply living inside a fence without shelter from heat, rain or cold. Is this considered substandard treatment and is there anything that can be done to intervene?
Johnson City has an ordinance which requires animals be provided shelter and protection from weather. The part that covers shelter:
10-105. Animal Care. (1) No owner or custodian shall fail to provide his/her animals with ...shelter and protection from the weather...
10-119. Penalties. Any person violating any provision of this chapter will be punished in accordance with the appropriate provisions of the charter and ordinances of the city and the statutes of Tennessee. Each separate day during which an offense occurs under this chapter shall constitute a separate chargeable offense.
Additionally, Tennessee statute T.C.A. 39-14-202 also makes it unlawful for an owner to fail to provide adequate shelter, "a person commits an offense who intentionally or knowingly fails unreasonably to provide necessary ...shelter for an animal in the person's custody."
These laws require sheltering of animals, however, for a person to be found guilty of animal cruelty for failing to provide shelter, it must be reported and proven beyond a reasonable doubt. In 2008, the Tennessee Attorney General recognized that it would be impossible to exactly define "necessary" shelter, because the necessity would depend on the "circumstances" relating to a particular animal's situation. (Tenn. Op. Atty. Gen. No. 08-65 (Tenn. A.G. 2008 WL 824236; March 24, 2008). This makes it harder to engage law enforcement, not because they don't care about the animals, but because the law is hard to enforce in all but the most severe cases.
Child protection laws tend to have specifically defined and more easily enforced abuse laws, which most would argue is a necessary protection for children. Animals, however, are seen as property under the law. As such, "courts tend to view an animal's value as arising not from anything inherently significant to the animal but only from the animal's usefulness to humans." (Pretenders to the Throne: A First Amendment Analysis of the Property Status of Animals, 18 Fordhan Envtl. L. Rev. 185, Spring 2007).
Legislation to protect animals from cruelty will not be effective if it consciously or subconsciously balances the property rights of the animal owner against the animal's protection. To make laws enforceable, the legislature will need to define and promote intolerance of harm and mistreatment to living creatures over the sanctity of property ownership.
The answer to the question "what can be done" to help that poor animal tied to a stake in all types of weather starts with education. Individuals must be educated to realize the harm and suffering that animals endure when not provided with adequate shelter. Legislators must be educated to see animal protection as a duty borne out of the power to do so and to assign that duty a higher degree of importance than the protection of the property rights of the animal owner such that the interest in protecting animals prevails over the property interest of the animal owner. Legislation must be written in a way that is not 'impossible' to define and enables law enforcement to determine when animals have been subjected to cruelty and the Attorney General to successfully prosecute those cases. You cannot legislate morality, but clearly defined and enforceable animal cruelty laws can encourage owners to think about the requirements of proper shelter and the consequences of not providing adequate care and shelter to their animals.
Rick J. Bearfield, Esq.