MS Dog & Cat Protection Act Signed into Law

dog and catUpdate May 1, 2011: The Mississippi Dog and Cat Protection Act, S.B. 2821, has now passed the Senate and House of Representatives and signed into law by Gov. Haley Barbour. 

Initially the House and Senate passed differing versions. But in the end the state Senate agreed to most of the  provisions of the House version which will make it easier for prosecutors to prove animal cruelty. 

Under the final version simple cruelty to a dog or cat will have an easier burden of proof and will not include beating, killing, maiming, poisoning and the like: "intentionally or with criminal negligence wound, deprive of adequate shelter, food and water, carry or confine in a cruel manner, any domesticated dog or cat, or cause any person to do the same". The penalty will be a fine up to $1,000 and at most a 6 months jail sentence.

More serious crimes to a dog or cat will constitute the crime of aggravated animal cruelty: "If a person with malice shall intentionally torture, mutilate, maim, burn, starve or disfigure any domesticated dog or cat, then he or she shall be guilty of the offense of aggravated cruelty to a dog or cat." But the crime will be a misdemeanor on the first offense with a penalty of a fine up to $2,500 and jail time of no more than 6 months. The second and subsequent offenses will be charged as a felony with a possible fine of $5,000 and up to 5 years in prison.

Anyone convicted of aggravated animal cruelty could be ordered to pay restitution under the current law and which under the bill will also include medicine. The offender could also be rquired to reimburse authorities and private organizations for the care of the abused animal. Under the bill a court could order an offender to:

(i) Receive a psychiatric or psychological evaluation and counseling or treatment at the offender’s cost.  

(ii) Perform community service. 

The court will be able to enjoin a person convicted of aggravated cruelty to a dog or cat from being employed in any position that involves the care of a dog or cat, or in any place where dogs or cats are kept or confined, for a period the court deems appropriate. 

The bill contains a number of clarifications of exemptions and will not apply to any person:

  • (i) Defending against physical or economic injury being threatened or caused by a dog or cat;
  • (ii) Injuring or killing an unconfined dog or cat on the property of the person, if the dog or cat is believed to constitute a threat of physical injury or damage to the person’s domesticated animal;
  • (iii) Protecting livestock from trespassing dogs or cats that are chasing or killing them;
  • (iv) Engaging in the practice of veterinary medicine;
  • (v) Rendering in good faith emergency care, treatment, or assistance to a dog or cat that is abandoned, ill, injured, or in distress;
  • (vi) Performing activities associated with accepted agricultural and animal husbandry practices which involve using dogs, raising, managing and using animals for food, fiber or transportation; and butchering animals and processing food;
  • (vii) Training for, or participating in, a rodeo, equine activity, dog show, event sponsored by a kennel club or other "bona fide" organization that promotes the breeding or showing of dogs or cats, or any other competitive event which involves the lawful use of dogs or cats;
  • (viii) Engaging in accepted practices of dog or cat identification;
  • (ix) Engaging in lawful activities that are regulated by the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks or the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources, including "without limitation", hunting, trapping, fishing, and wildlife and seafood management;
  • (x) Performing regulated scientific, research, medical and zoological activities;
  • (xi) Disposing of or destroying certain dogs under authority of Sections 19-5-50, 21-19-9 and 41-53-11, which allow counties, municipalities and certain law enforcement officers to destroy dogs running at large without proper identification indicating that they have been vaccinated for rabies; or
  • (xii) Engaging in professional pest control activities.

There are also provisions for humane euthanasia of dogs and cats.

For all other animals the burden of proof for cruelty to them will be "intentional or criminal negligence". Shelter is not added as a requirement for all other animals in the final version.

Cats would be protected under the current prohibition against poisoning certain animals. The penalty would remain the same – up to 3 years in prison and a $500 fine. MS Code Sec. 97-41-17

Support dogs for the mobility impaired would be added to laws protecting guide, hearing and service dogs.  

Currently, Mississippi is one of 4 states along with Idaho, South Dakota and North Dakota where no matter the circumstances, animal cruelty is a misdemeanor. If Gov. Barbour signs S.B. 2821, only 3 states will have no felony penalties for animal cruelty.

The Senate version would have created a felony offense of aggravated animal cruelty to a dog or cat: "If a person intentionally, maliciously, or out of a spirit of revenge or wanton cruelty, shall kill, maim, seriously wound, seriously injure, beat, poison, deprive of adequate shelter, food and water, or carry or confine in a cruel manner any dog or cat, or cause any person to do the same" is guilty of aggravated cruelty. A violation can mean a fine of up to $10,000.00 or imprisonment for up to 5 years, or both.

Also under the Senate version a second or subsequent offense of simple animal cruelty would have been charged as felony aggravated animal cruelty. Simple animal cruelty would have been defined as: "If a person * * * shall mischievously or recklessly kill, maim, wound, * * * injure, beat, poison, deprive of adequate shelter, food and water, or carry or confine in a cruel manner any dog or cat, or cause any person to do the same".  A first offense would have been a misdemeanor subject to a fine up to $1,000 and no more than 90 days in jail.

The Senate version also would have increased the burden of proof under the cruelty law applicable to all other animals but also added that intentional deprivation of shelter would be a crime. Provision of shelter is not currently required. Crimes to other animals including torture and mutilation as defined under the bill would have remained misdemeanors. 

Another bill that would have improved Mississippi’s animal cruelty law passed the state Senate. For more information….