We’ve all seen animals living in circumstances that we personally find appalling. But the truth is, each of us, has our own idea of what is, and is not, suitable living arrangements for an animal.
Some people feel all domestic animals kept as pets should live indoors. Others find kennels acceptable, and some even find life on a chain a suitable way of life for a dog. It’s an individual choice, and with animals recognized as personal property in the state of Missouri, pretty much anything goes as long as the animal has food, water, suitable shelter, and receives necessary veterinarian care. No one who cares deeply about animal welfare finds these minimums adequate care, but it’s the law.
So if you see an animal in a circumstance that you personally deem abusive or neglectful, what can you do?
The first step to getting the animal help is to contact law enforcement. Contacting your local shelter or rescue might get the ball rolling, but more times than not, it’s better just to cut out the middle man and go to the agency that is ultimately responsible for upholding the law. If the animal is within the city limits, contact the city police department. If the animal is outside of city limits, go straight to the county sheriff. Give a formal statement by swearing out a complaint.
So why not just take the animal yourself, and find it a good home?
Because an animal is considered the personal property of the individual owner, simply taking the animal is against the law. It’s called stealing and it’s really no different than walking into someone’s home and stealing their television set. Actually, you would probably be in less trouble stealing a person’s TV. Stealing a dog is a class D Felony in Missouri and comes with hefty fines and jail time.
It is a class D felony if a person steals an animal belonging to another person. A theft is also a class D felony if, within the previous 10 years, the offender has two or more convictions for theft-related offenses that occurred on separate occasions. (§ 570.040.) A class D felony carries a term of imprisonment of not more than four years, plus a fine of not more than $5,000 or an amount that is no more than twice the amount of the offender’s gain from the theft — up to a maximum of $20,000. (§§ 558.011, 560.011.)
So what if you file a police report and nothing is done to rectify the situation?
If you formally make a written complaint (not a simple phone call) against someone for animal abuse or neglect, law enforcement officials are required to look into the complaint. That means they will visit the animal and owner to assess the situation. If the animal is being provided adequate food, water, and shelter, and appears to be in good health, it’s case closed. It doesn’t matter if that animal is living up to your standards of the standards of the officer investigating; if the animal has the bare minimums required by law, nothing can legally be done to change the animal’s situation.
If the state requirements for keeping an animal are not being met the owner will be ticketed and given the opportunity to correct the situation. If law enforcement revisits the property and finds the situation has not been corrected the animal owner will be issued a ticket and given their day in court. If law enforcement can prove in court that the animal is not being cared for the animal can be seized from its owner. What happens to the animal after that depends on the animal’s condition and the protocols of local law enforcement concerning seized animals.
If law enforcement investigates a property where animals are not receiving adequate care, and the animal is either dead or near death, the animal can be seized but only after an order from a judge has been obtained.
Bottom line is, even the police cannot seize an animal without proper authorization from a judge. In most severe cases of abuse and neglect, it shouldn’t be hard to get that judge’s order, but it does require the involvement of law enforcement. An average citizen cannot conduct this process on their own.
But can’t an animal shelter or rescue take an animal that they feel is being abused or neglected?
Again, everyone has their own perception of abuse and neglect, and just because an animal organization feels an animal is in danger does not give them the legal right to seize an animal from its owner. Regardless of your personal opinion, the law concerning animal ownership is quite cut and dry.
In order for any animal organization to take an animal they are required to seek the assistance of law enforcement. Even licensed animal investigators have no legal right to seize an animal without going through the proper procedures and the assistance of law enforcement.
Many times animal organizations are able to sidestep the legal process by obtaining an owner surrender agreement after talking with the pet owner, but they cannot legally take the animal without the owner’s permission under any circumstances. If they take the animal without permission, not only could the individual rescuer be charged with a class D felony, but a licensed rescue or shelter would lose their license to operate should one of their officials be charged with animal stealing.