If you are like us, you treat your dog or cat as a member of your family. Maybe your pet sleeps with you in bed, wears a jacket when it’s cold outside, or sits on the couch and watches TV with you. You may also be one of those people who has to mute the TV or change the channel when an ASPCA commercial comes on. You may even call your pets your “fur children.” If so, you are our friend and we appreciate your compassion towards animals. Our office supports and advocates for animal rights.
Although you may consider your pet your child, under current Florida law however, animals are considered personal property of the animal owner. Animals do not have the same legal status as people and, therefore, do not enjoy the same rights and protections under the law as we do.
This is evident if you consider this example: when a person intentionally kills another person, they may be charged with murder and the legal consequences can be severe, including the death penalty. However, if a person kills a dog, that person could be charged with a misdemeanor or, if the killing of the dog is intentional and results in the “cruel death” of the dog, the most that person can be charged with is aggravated animal cruelty, a third degree felony, punishable by up to 5 years in prison and/or a fine up to $10,000.00. Depending on the person’s criminal history (or lack thereof), oftentimes the offender will get away with a plea deal with little to no jail time.
Consider this excerpt from a 2017 legal article published in the Florida Bar Journal:
Many studies in psychology, sociology, and criminology have demonstrated that violent offenders frequently have childhood and adolescent histories of serious and repeated animal cruelty. As a result, intentional animal cruelty has become a great concern in recent years, as it is a sign of psychological distress and often indicates an individual that may be predisposed to committing acts of violence, even towards humans. A strong correlation has been established linking individuals who abuse animals with incidents of domestic violence towards humans.
Chip Fletcher & DeBora Cromartie-Mincey, The Growing Trend of Animal Abuser Registries, Florida Bar Journal, Vol. 91, No. 10 (2017) (https://www.floridabar.org/the-florida-bar-journal/the-growing-trend-of-animal-abuser-registries/).
We are animal lovers and animal rights advocates. Dave currently has 3 rescue dogs (Klondike, Karley, and Joey) and Jack has a rescue dog (Ripley) and a cat (Squeaky). It is our passion as attorneys to help our furry friends in any way we can. From a big picture perspective, we believe that laws need to be changed in order to better-protect animals from abusers. For example, some states, such as Oregon, have created a new legal class for animals, declaring that “animals are sentient beings capable of experiencing pain, stress, and fear.” If Florida changed its laws to designate animals as sentient beings, criminal penalties would likely increase for those charged with animal cruelty crimes.
Further, civil lawsuits against animal abusers would be more effective. As Florida law currently stands with animals as personal property, civil damages that can be awarded to an owner of an animal intentionally hurt or killed by another are generally limited to the value of the animal. If Florida law changes though and animals are designated as sentient beings, damages such as the animal’s pain and suffering could be considered and awarded.
We believe that animal abuse crimes need to be taken more seriously and prosecuted more aggressively. Animal cruelty charges often get pled down or dismissed as part of plea negotiations. In Connecticut, “Desmond’s Law” allows a judge to appoint an attorney to represent the interests of an animal in an animal cruelty case. The idea behind the law is to give animals a voice in the judicial process.
Keeping in line with our passion to help animals, we have started a movement in St. Johns County to implement an animal abuser registry. This registry concept is not new to Florida. Many counties, including Marion, Hillsborough, and Voluisa, to name a few, have adopted animal abuser registries. The registry acts similar to that of a sex offender registry. Any person convicted of an animal abuse crime within the county is placed on the registry. The offender’s name, address, and photo are placed on the registry for a certain period of time. The registry is public so animal rescues can check the registry before adopting out a dog or cat. Further, law enforcement can check the registry to make sure offenders are not in violation of the terms of their probation, which oftentimes involves a prohibition against owning an animal or being around animals.
We are hopeful that we can convince our local commissioners to adopt an animal abuser registry. We will need the support of this community. Our ultimate goal would be to have the State of Florida adopt a unified state-wide animal abuser registry.
We greatly appreciate the difficult and oftentimes emotional work staff and volunteers at animal rescues put into rescuing and caring for animals. As part of our practice, our office provides corporate counsel and litigation services to local animal rescues. We’ve defended rescues in lawsuits. We’ve also represented an exotic animal injured by a veterinarian.
Our office currently provides corporate counsel services to S.A.F.E. Pet Rescue and the St. Augustine Wildlife Reserve. For more information on S.A.F.E., or if you are interested in adopting a dog or cat, please visit S.A.F.E. at:
6101 A1A South
St. Augustine, Florida 32080
1250 A1A South
St. Augustine, Florida 32080
For more information on the St. Augustine Wildlife Reserve, and to book a tour to see lions, tigers, bears, wolves, and lynxes (highly recommended!), please visit:
Oftentimes, our furry friends need a strong advocate to stand by their side. We represent people in matters involving their animals, including:
Dangerous and aggressive dog actions
Removal of an animal by a homeowners’ association
Dog bites (plaintiff and defendant)
Civil actions against animal abusers