ANIMALS ARE PROTECTED UNDER GEORGIA LAW TOO

Throughout this country, few criminal cases ignite more emotion than those involving harm to animals. Whether it be a high profile case such as the one against Michael Vick for dog fighting or the recent case involving a person taping a dog’s mouth closed, people focus in on these cases. Under Georgia law, animals are protected and citizens that cause harm to animals face punishment. In Georgia, the legislature has set out both a misdemeanor cruelty to animals and a felony aggravated cruelty to animals. This week I’m going to discuss the misdemeanor.

Pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 16-12-4 (b), a person commits cruelty to animals when he or she:

  • Causes physical pain, suffering, or death to an animal by any unjustifiable act or omission; or
  • Having intentionally exercised custody, control, possession, or ownership of an animal, fails to provide such animal adequate food, water, sanitary conditions, or ventilation that is consistent with what a reasonable person of ordinary knowledge would believe is the normal requirement and feeding habit for such animal’s size, species, breed, age, and physical condition.

If a person is convicted of cruelty to animals under this subsection, he or she is guilty of a misdemeanor and faces up to 12 months in jail. However, if a person is convicted of cruelty to animals after he or she has previously been convicted of the same, he or she faces punishment for a high and aggravated misdemeanor. For the purposes of calculating previous adjudications of cruelty to animals, the statute even factors in juvenile offenses.

In my analysis of this statute, I want to make several observations. First, nothing in this statute prohibits legal hunting and fishing in Georgia. In other words, all those years I’ve spent catching and cleaning fish does not count as cruelty to animals. In fact, under Georgia’s statute fish are not even included in the definition of an “animal.” Secondly, if stray animals wander up to your house, you do not have a duty to feed them or to provide for them. However, if you “intentionally” exercise custody, control, possession, or ownership over stray animals, then you are obligated, at that point, to provide adequate care for those strays. If you don’t, then you could face cruelty to animal charges. Finally, the statute only requires a person to provide care that a “reasonable person of ordinary knowledge” would provide to certain animals. Opinions vary greatly over how well animals should be kept, but Georgia’s law leaves some discretion to animal owners as to how to best care for their pets. Some people believe dogs should have air conditioned dog houses and should be feed the best foods. However, Georgia law does not require the absolute best for each and every animal. The care just has to be reasonable.

There are many more points to this statute. Next week, I will break this statute down a little further. Also, I will explain what makes cruelty to animals a felony.

Jeffrey E. Johnston is a local attorney licensed to practice in Georgia. His practice focuses primarily on Criminal Defense and Personal Injury law. His law firm can be reached at (706) 869-8171.