120 S. Olive Ave., Suite 402
West Palm Beach, FL 33401

Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control’s Animal Cruelty Investigations

As a practicing criminal defense lawyer and one who has built a reputation in animal law, I am writing this blog as a public announcement, as to behavior that I find very objectionable, regarding Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control. The mission of any Animal Care and Control Facility is to assure the public that unwanted domestic animals will be properly maintained during sheltering or re-homing, that the citizens of their locale will provide proof of rabies vaccinations to protect the public as a whole from the virus and to provide the public with the daunting task of euthanasia for those who cannot afford to use a private licensed veterinarian. As a matter of fact their slogan is “protecting the health, safety and welfare of animals and residents.” But recently their actions speak a different slogan for poor individuals, families and others who have used their facility for animal care including euthanasia.

As domestic animals age, including dogs, their health fails, their weight is reduced, their teeth rot, their bones become arthritic, their fur becomes thin, and mostly they become unhealthy looking to those that did not live with them their entire life. Animal owners are generally wonderful people as they provide their four legged family members with love, nutrition, exercise, and health care throughout their life. The hardest thing for an animal owner to do is take that long ride to euthanize their pet.

Now imagine the family that is sitting in Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control with their loving four legged friend waiting to have the pet euthanized, when a Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control Officer makes a decision that the senior dog is actually being neglected because of its appearance. Instead of euthanizing the pet at the owners request, the officer takes the pet into custody and then euthanizes the animal several days later after a full investigation is made, even though the owner insist the animal be immediately put out of its misery, as that is why the owner brought the dog in the first place. This type of behavior is becoming common practice at Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control.

Under Florida Law Animal Cruelty can either be charged as a criminal misdemeanor or felony? Animal cruelty is defined in Florida as: (1) A person who unnecessarily overloads, overdrives, torments, deprives of necessary sustenance or shelter, or unnecessarily mutilates, or kills any animal, or causes the same to be done, or carries in or upon any vehicle, or otherwise, any animal in a cruel or inhumane manner, commits animal cruelty, a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or by a fine of not more than $5,000, or both.

(2) A person who intentionally commits an act to any animal, or a person who owns or has the custody or control of any animal and fails to act, which results in the cruel death, or excessive or repeated infliction of unnecessary pain or suffering, or causes the same to be done, commits aggravated animal cruelty, a felony of the third degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or by a fine of not more than $10,000, or both.

(a) A person convicted of a violation of this subsection, where the finder of fact determines that the violation includes the knowing and intentional torture or torment of an animal that injures, mutilates, or kills the animal, shall be ordered to pay a minimum mandatory fine of $2,500 and undergo psychological counseling or complete an anger management treatment program.

(b) A person convicted of a second or subsequent violation of this subsection shall be required to pay a minimum mandatory fine of $5,000 and serve a minimum mandatory period of incarceration of 6 months. In addition, the person shall be released only upon expiration of sentence, is not eligible for parole, control release, or any form of early release, and must serve 100 percent of the court-imposed sentence. Any plea of nolo contendere shall be considered a conviction for purposes of this subsection.

(3) A person who commits multiple acts of animal cruelty or aggravated animal cruelty against an animal may be charged with a separate offense for each such act. A person who commits animal cruelty or aggravated animal cruelty against more than one animal may be charged with a separate offense for each animal such cruelty was committed upon.

(4) A veterinarian licensed to practice in the state shall be held harmless from either criminal or civil liability for any decisions made or services rendered under the provisions of this section. Such a veterinarian is, therefore, under this subsection, immune from a lawsuit for his or her part in an investigation of cruelty to animals.

(5) A person who intentionally trips, fells, ropes, or lassos the legs of a horse by any means for the purpose of entertainment or sport shall be guilty of a third degree felony, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084. As used in this subsection, “trip” means any act that consists of the use of any wire, pole, stick, rope, or other apparatus to cause a horse to fall or lose its balance, and “horse” means any animal of any registered breed of the genus Equus, or any recognized hybrid thereof. The provisions of this subsection shall not apply when tripping is used:

(a) To control a horse that is posing an immediate threat to other livestock or human beings;

(b) For the purpose of identifying ownership of the horse when its ownership is unknown; or

(c) For the purpose of administering veterinary care to the horse. Fla. Stat. Ann. § 828.12.

Animal Care and Control of Palm Beach County will allege that the person bringing the animal to be euthanized, allowed the pet to unnecessarily suffer because of the condition that it was found in when the pet owner brought the animal to be euthanized. Animal Care and Control will examine the animal’s teeth, eyes, fur, bone movement, bowel and bladder condition and other areas of the animal to show infections, tooth decade, mange, arthritic condition, and other pro-longed illness that have reduced the animal’s condition. The pet owner who has an animal in a condition that shows “suffering” can be expected to be charged with either a misdemeanor or felony as described above.

This charging of a pet owner who cared for an animal up until its last days on earth seems to be outside of what the law prescribes. Love of an animal and dear friend until its last moments is not what the animal cruelty laws of Florida have written into the language. This type of behavior in charging pet owners who cherish their animals and finally come to the realization that euthanization must be conducted is outside the norms of our societal interest. First, the pet owner is suffering along with the sick animal and their decision to put the pet down is difficult enough without being threatened with criminal charges. Second, as these types of examples increase in our community, pet owners may become leery to seek euthanization in a humane manner and take matters into their own hands. Third, pet owners may euthanize their animals too early before the owner and pet is ready. Lastly, dropping off pets in a location left to die may become more of the norm than the exception.

If you or a loved one is facing animal cruelty charges contacted an experienced criminal defense lawyer by calling 561 832 1170 and speaking with Palm Beach Criminal Defense Lawyer Andrew D. Stine. West Palm Beach Criminal Attorney Andrew D. Stine is a pet owner and understands the difficulties of euthanizing your furry friend. Hire Stine or Do The Time.

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