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Cracking Down on Animal Abuse

Oregon senators pave the way for increased animal safety and welfare across the state
Earl the dog recovered from an incident of abuse last april at the Emergency Veterinary Hospital.
Earl the dog recovered from an incident of abuse last april at the Emergency Veterinary Hospital. Photo: Eugene Police.

With three recently passed bills, Oregon is cracking down on animal abuse and neglect. The bills, two of which were carried by Eugene senators, touch on everything from animal forfeiture to cock fighting.

These bills, however, may fail to impact the prosecution of animal cruelty in Lane County, since most cases are treated as code violations rather than crimes in the area.

House bill 3177 “authorizes the seizure and forfeiture of hens and chicks associated with cockfighting” instead of just the forfeiture of fighting roosters, according to an Oregon Legislature news release. This bill was carried to passage in senate by Eugene Sen. James Manning, who says that taking the hens and chicks away along with the fighting birds “will curb the tide of continuing on with this activity, and it’s better for the birds as well.”

Manning says he became concerned about the issue after seeing documentaries highlighting the practice and its cruelty. “I would hope that people will become more aware of the actual harm it does,” he adds.

Linda Fielder of the Oregon Humane Society investigations unit says cockfighting is more common than dogfighting in Oregon. She remembers just one dogfighting case in 13 years at OHS, but says “cockfighting definitely is more prevalent and more reported,” with the investigations unit receiving several cockfighting calls each year.

Fielder says neighbors are more likely to report cockfighting farms since “it’s harder to remain secretive when you’re raising cocks.” Convictions are more difficult, as evidence of fighting needed for conviction is kept separate from these farms, which often house hundreds of crowing roosters. “Generally that’s not where the fights are held,” she adds.

Citizens can keep an eye out for both types of fighting rings, Fielder says. Signs of dogfighting include training dogs using treadmills, and “they do a lot of bite strength training, like having the dog hang by their jaw from a tire tied to a tree.” 

 “A lot of times it has to do with the way the animal is kept,” Fielder adds. “People who fight dogs rarely just have one. They’ll have a number of dogs,” often chained or in small outdoor kennels. Vets and concerned citizens can look for “scarring on the face or front legs in particular or evidence of wounds in those areas.” 

Sen. Floyd Prozanski of Eugene carried House Bill 2625, which allows animal care agencies to “pursue forfeiture of animals seized in cases that involve animal neglect or abuse, regardless of whether any of the criminal charges involve that specific animal,” according to the news release. These forfeitures would be based on a guilty verdict in a criminal case.

The third bill, HB 3283, prevents felony animal abusers from owning the kind of animals they abused for much longer than laid out by previous law; the bill extends the prohibition from 5 years to 15 years.

All three bills now await Gov. Kate Brown’s signature.

Fielder says neglect is the most common form of animal cruelty reported. “Skinny horses, the dog tied out without a doghouse — that type of neglect is what we most frequently have reported to us.”

Oregon’s animal cruelty prosecutor, Jacob Kamins, says criminal neglect cases come up when a person has “a legal responsibility to care for the animal. If you fail to give them minimal care under the law you could be guilty of neglect.” 

In Lane County, however, neglect and abuse may not lead to criminal charges, and so may not face the increased penalties of these new bills. “Lane County treats those things as violation level, so a traffic ticket. No chance of jail, no chance of probation,” Kamins says. “This means the burden of proof is lower for whoever is prosecuting the case, but it also means you don’t have the same punishments when charging someone with a crime.”

Devon Ashbridge, the public information officer for Lane County, says in an email that “animal owners can be cited under Lane Code 7.120 (abuse) or Lane Code 7.125 (neglect) or Lane Code 7.105 (abandonment). If the neglect or abuse is severe, criminal prosecution is a possibility.”

These codes Ashbridge adds, cover only unincorporated parts of the county, not cities like Eugene and Springfield. It is up to the district attorney’s office to determine whether a case is criminal, she says. She says that signs of neglect include lack of food or water, lack of shelter, unsanitary conditions, noticeable trauma and abandonment.

If a person is cited under Lane Code instead of Oregon Law, they will face small fines instead of jail time, the abuse charges won’t be on their record, and they won’t face the same consequences that the state requires for criminal cases. See Eugene Weekly’s previous reporting for more information (“Why is animal neglect not criminal in Lane County?” in the January 8, 2015 issue). Ashbridge says, “There have not been changes in how cases are cited in the last two years.”

Ingrid Kessler is the co-owner of the Emergency Veterinary Hospital in Springfield, a 24/7 facility that sees emergency cases, including 12 to 20 abuse cases per year from owners and local agencies alike. “It’s hard to talk about even if you’ve been doing it for 20 years,” Kessler says. “We have seen animals here who have been burned or cut or sexually abused — sometimes with an isolated incident and sometimes with human family members who are seeking medical care simultaneously.”

 Kessler points to an alarming statistic: There is an 88 percent correlation between animal abuse and child abuse. “If someone is going to be a jerk to a vulnerable family member, they’re not going stop to consider if it has two legs or four legs.” Oregon laws reflect this, with criminal animal abuse cases including harsher penalties if a child witnesses the violence. 

Kessler says that anyone concerned about animal cruelty should call their local police agency to contact the animal welfare office.

If you suspect an animal is being abused or neglected, call Eugene Animal welfare at 541-687-4060. For unincorporated areas of Lane County, call Lane County Animal Services at 541-682-3645.