What is the Definition of “Cruel?”

By isak, August 31, 2009

I recently came across this article in Clay News, a biweekly newspaper for Clay, Alabama which follows through on the actual meaning of cruel as it pertains to animals in Section 13A, Article 11 of the Alabama State Law Code entitled “Cruelty to Dog or Cat.” If you have ever read the articles and by-laws of various towns and cities and states, it can be confusing. But this article follows one case all the way through with great attention to detail. So I reprint it here:

What does “Cruel” Mean?
Written by Tina Tidmore
August 31, 2009

Note: This article first appeared in the July 2004 Clay News.

I was riding along with a couple of my friends discussing where to eat lunch, when we saw a car stopping along the edge of Old Springville Road in Huffman. Curious, we waited to see if the car would go. Suddenly, a kitten was thrown out of the passenger side, then the car drove off. Shocked, we took a minute to decide what to do. What would you have done?

I asked my friend to follow the car, which stopped at a local grocery store. I got the tag number. Then my friend asked me, “What do you want to do now?” I asked her to let me talk to the man. There were a lady and a man in the car and the man was getting out of the passenger’s side.

I said to him, in the most childlike innocent voice I have, “Excuse me, excuse me sir, did you realize that a cat came out of your car?”

His response, “I don’t care nothing about that cat, I am just doing what someone did to me.”

I said, “Well, I guess the loving thing would be for me to go get the cat and find it a home or take it to the Humane Society.”

His response, “You do whatever you want with the cat.”

My patient friend then took me back to where the cat was and let me get the kitten, who was about 12 weeks old. I then got to my car and let my friends go on to lunch. I wondered, did that man break the law? I decided to go to the Sheriff’s department to ask. At the Sheriff’s department a lady instructed me to sit down in the lobby area and she would call a deputy.

After approximately thirty minutes, a very polite and professional Deputy Hallmark showed up and asked me to come back to his office. After my relating what I had witnessed, Hallmark had to verify that a law was broken and then asked if I could make a positive identification of the man who actually did it. When I told him I could, he said we would fill out a police report, then he would go to the person’s residence, which he could get from the tag number I recorded, and I could call him the next day to see what happened.

The Law
The law that was broken in this case is Section 13A, Article 11 of the Alabama State Law Code entitled “Cruelty to Dog or Cat.” Passed in August 2000, it more clearly defines what “cruel” is and makes cruelty to dogs and cats a felony. In part, the law reads:

“A person commits the crime of cruelty to a dog or cat in the first degree if he or she intentionally tortures any dog or cat or skins a domestic dog or cat or offers for sale or exchange or offers to buy or exchange the fur, hide, or pelt of a domestic dog or cat. Cruelty to a dog or cat in the first degree is a Class C felony….

“A person commits the crime of cruelty to a dog or cat in the second degree if he or she, in a cruel manner, overloads, overdrives, deprives of necessary sustenance or shelter, unnecessarily or cruelly beats, injures, mutilates, or causes the same to be done. Cruelty to a dog or cat in the second degree is a Class A misdemeanor.”

To make more clear what is covered by this law, the act gives definitions:

“The word ‘torture’ as used in this article shall mean the act of doing physical injury to a dog or cat by the infliction of inhumane treatment or gross physical abuse meant to cause said animal intensive or prolonged pain or serious physical injury, or thereby causing death due to said act.”

“The word ‘cruel’ as used in this article shall mean: every act, omission, or neglect, including abandonment, where unnecessary or unjustifiable pain or suffering, including abandonment, is caused or where unnecessary pain or suffering is allowed to continue.”

“The words ‘dog or cat’ as used in this article shall mean any domesticated member of the dog or cat family.”

Under this definition, the action I witnessed was abandonment; and could be cruelty to a cat in the second degree. Because there is no case law testing this law in this circumstance, some in the District Attorney’s office have the opinion that this law would not apply if no physical suffering occurred because the animal was rescued by someone else.

Jackie Meyer, director of the Greater Birmingham Humane Society, has a different opinion; saying rescued or not, the act of abandonment itself is cruel because of the intent.

Under the law there are acts that some people may consider cruel which this law does not apply to:

  • Academic and research enterprises that use dogs or cats for medical or pharmaceutical research or testing.
  • Any owner of a dog or cat who euthanizes the dog or cat for humane purposes.
  • Any person who kills a dog or cat found outside of the owned or rented property of the owner or custodian of the dog or cat when the dog or cat threatens immediate physical injury or is causing physical injury to any person, animal, bird, or silvicultural or agricultural industry.
  • A person who shoots a dog or cat with a BB gun not capable of inflicting serious injury when the dog or cat is defecating or urinating on the person’s property.
  • A person who uses a training device, anti-bark collar, or an invisible fence on his or her own dog or cat or with permission of the owner.

To get even more clear how the law applies, I asked Leslie Schiffman from the District Attorney’s office some questions:
Q. Does it matter how a dog or cat is put out of a car, such as thrown out on busy street or taken to an isolated area and dropped off?
A. If a dog or cat is thrown out of a moving car and serious physical injury or death results, then the person may be prosecuted under this act to the first degree which is a felony. If the person puts a cat or dog out of a car and simply abandons it, he may be prosecuted under this act to the second degree which is a misdemeanor.

Q. To be considered abandonment, does the person have to be the owner?
A. No, the act resulting in suffering is what is illegal, when the person has the animal in custody and commits the act of abandonment, he has broken this law.

Q. For someone to be prosecuted for abandoning a dog or cat by putting the animal out of the car and leaving, must a witness be able to make a positive identification of the person or is the car tag number enough?
A. A witness must be able to make a positive identification of the person who actually committed this crime for him to be prosecuted, but it is not recommended for a witness to confront the individual in these violent times.

Q. If a person is hunting and happens upon a severely diseased puppy, which has been abandoned, and kills the puppy to relieve it’s suffering, has he broken the law?
A. No

Q. If a stray dog or cat wonders on someone’s property and the owner of the property decides not to feed or provide care for the animal, has he broken the law?
A. No, a person is not under legal obligation to care for all strays even if they come on one’s property.

Q. What is the range of penalty for breaking this law?
A. First degree: Class C Felony meaning the penalty is one year and one day to 10 years incarceration and / or up to $5,000 fine. Second degree: Class A Misdemeanor meaning up to a year incarceration and / or up to $2,000 fine.

End of Story
Deputy Hallmark did go to the resident of the person I saw throw the kitten out of the car window. He told me that the woman, who was the driver, admitted to what happened. Then Hallmark said it would be turned over to the local Animal Cruelty Officer Deputy Ziegler. I spoke with Ziegler who said he talked with the man who did this and explained to him that any time a stray comes on a person’s property, which the man claimed happened to him, there were other options. Officials recommend people in that situation call Animal Control which will come get the animal. It is now up to me whether I will press charges.

What ever happened to the kitten? Well, after leaving the Sheriff’s Department that day at 1 p.m., the cat and I were hungry and went to Arby’s for two sandwiches, one for each of us. While getting my food at the drive through, I asked through the window, “Does anyone in there want a kitten?” A young man said, “I do.” He explained that he was about to move out and going to get married soon. Also, his fiancé loves cats and was wanting one. He gladly picked up the cat after he got off work.

As a personal note: I do not recommend the method used in this case to find a home for the kitten by giving it to the first person who said, “I’ll take it.” I think you need to know more about the person. And second, given the overcrowding at the shelters right now, calling Animal Control could be a death sentence for the animal. If they are too young or too old, if they are infirmed or have a skittish behavior, they may be killed immediately. Perhaps you can work with a rescue group and foster the animal until a forever home can be found.

What do you think?

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