It's the Law, Part 2—Simple or Gross Neglect

by Felicia Langel, DVM

The owner of a Virginia farm faces animal cruelty charges after authorities discovered the bodies of half a dozen dead horses amid scores of other animals they said had been neglected. The owner of the farm, Anne Goland, has been charged with 27 counts of animal cruelty after an investigation that began in October. When authorities arrived at the Peaceable Farms in Somerset, Va., on Oct. 19, they discovered the dead horses and five others that were in such poor health they had to be euthanized. There was also a dead donkey and many dead cats, dogs and chickens, a press release said.

Victoria St. Martin, The Washington Post, Oct. 27, 2015

Under Maryland law, simple neglect of an animal is a criminal offense that can result in a misdemeanor charge of 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. Simple neglect is the unintentional failure to provide reasonable care. Gross neglect, by contrast, is the intentional disregard for the need to provide care; if the circumstances of the case warrant, gross neglect may be prosecuted as a felony in Maryland.

Animal neglect specifically means the failure to provide adequate food, water, shelter, or veterinary care. When the neglect occurs over an extended period of time, animals experience a significant amount of pain and distress. For instance, as an animal starves to death due to a lack of food, its body slowly breaks down, causing pain at each stage of its deterioration.

Animal neglect is the most common form of animal cruelty seen in Frederick County. Chained dogs are a particular problem; it is not uncommon for animal control officers to find a chained dog literally frozen to the ground or dead from heat prostration due to lack of proper shelter. Even with adequate shelter, chaining a dog forces that animal into a life of isolation that can drive him/her to aggression, neurotic behavior, and self-mutilation.

People who commit acts of neglect against animals are more likely than others to commit abusive acts against people. When an individual is insensitive to animal suffering, he or she is more likely to be unresponsive to the needs of children or seniors living in the household. For example, in the case of animal hoarding, a well-meaning person adopts too many animals to care for properly and eventually becomes blind to the animals' suffering. Consequently, the hoarder puts human and animal lives at risk due to poor sanitation in the home, zoonotic disease, and neglect of self and dependents.

The link between animal neglect and domestic violence is well established by several scientific studies. According to one survey, animals were abused in 88% of homes where child physical abuse was present. In another survey, 71% of women seeking shelter at a safe house reported that their partner had threatened, hurt, or killed their pet(s). In Maryland, human services, animal services, and law enforcement agencies share resources and cross-report in an effort to prevent animal abuse from leading to domestic violence, and vice versa.

You can help stop animal neglect by being aware of the signs: animals provided with inadequate food, water, or shelter; dogs left chained outside; a pet that appears to have been abandoned; an excessive number of animals on a single property; or a large-scale, intensive dog breeding operation (a puppy mill).

If you see or suspect animal neglect or another form of cruelty, report it to Frederick County Animal Control (301-600-1544 or 301-600-2558 after hours) or dial 911. You may choose to report animal cruelty anonymously, though doing so may hinder the investigation. You may also submit complaints related to animal cruelty online: http://www.frederickcountymd.gov/requesttracker.aspx.

Felicia Langel, DVM, is Lieutenant Colonel, US Army Veterinary Corps, and secretary of Frederick County's Companion Animal Welfare Advisory Committee.