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PACT Act is now federal law–but what does it really cover?

The PACT Act (Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act) was signed into federal law yesterday! This is a great law that builds on 2010’s Animal Crush Prohibition Act by making any activity defined as “animal crushing” potentially a federal crime, whether or not the act is committed as part of a crush video.

Unfortunately, there are lots of misleading and confusing headlines on this law, including that the PACT Act:
“makes animal cruelty a federal felony”
“Mak[es] Cruelty To Animals A Federal Crime”
“Bans Cruelty”
“Make[s] Animal Abuse a Federal Offense”
is a “Sweeping Federal Ban on Animal Cruelty”
covers “Most animal cruelty”

The PACT Act does make some animal cruelty a federal offense, but it isn’t that simple! Here are the basics:

✏️ What is “Animal Crushing”?
➡️ Animal crushing commonly refers to extreme fetish videos depicting animal abuse—where small animals are crushed, ripped apart, burned, or otherwise tortured to death. Usually, this is designed for the sexual gratification of the viewer. In 2010, a federal law was passed that banned the creation or depiction of such videos/acts, but NOT the actual underlying act of animal cruelty.

✏️ What does the PACT Act cover?
➡️  It outlaws purposeful crushing, burning, drowning, suffocation, impalement and other purposeful acts that cause “serious bodily injury” to animals other than fish. It also prohibits some acts of sexual abuse against animals other than fish, but this particular provision seems to have a qualifier that such acts are only prohibited if committed in the “special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States” (federal property). The rest of the PACT Act applies to acts “in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce,” in addition to federal property. This limitation on the jurisdiction of animal sexual abuse crimes seems to negatively affect the federal prosecution of, for example, bestiality videos that are distributed online.
➡️ It outlines exemptions for humane euthanasia; slaughter for food; recreational activities such as hunting, trapping, and fishing; medical and scientific research; normal veterinary, agricultural husbandry, or other animal management practice; unintentional acts; and acts that are necessary to protect the life or property of a person.
➡️ It does not apply to anything other than the specific acts of cruelty listed above.
➡️ It does not cover all acts of animal cruelty.
➡️ It does not cover acts of neglect, abandonment, extreme weather, filthy conditions, or tethering issues.
➡️ It does not cover “puppy mill” issues.

✏️ Does the PACT Act change state and local law?
➡️ No. An offender can only be prosecuted pursuant to the PACT Act if the criminal act occurs on federal property (ex: national parks, military bases) or “in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce.” Federal property (“special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States”) is defined in 8 subsections of 18 U.S.C. § 7: maritime jurisdiction, 18 U.S.C. §§ 7(1), 7(2); lands and buildings, 18 U.S.C. § 7(3); Guano Islands, 18 U.S.C. §7(4); aircraft, 18 U.S.C. § 7(5); spacecraft, 18 U.S.C. § 7(6); places outside the jurisdiction of any nation, 18 U.S.C. § 7(7); and foreign vessels en route to and from the United States, 18 U.S.C. § 7(8)).
➡️ The PACT Act was designed not to preempt or interfere with local/state animal cruelty laws or enforcement. The PACT Act is merely a federal overlay, exactly like the federal animal fighting law(s).

✏️ Who enforces the PACT Act?
➡️ Federal law enforcement in federal courts.

✏️ What are the possible punishments for violation of the PACT Act?
➡️ Violations could result in a fine and up to seven years’ imprisonment.

✏️ Does the PACT Act make all animal cruelty a felony?
➡️ No. As noted above, the PACT Act only applies in a narrow set of circumstances. State and local legislation to strengthen animal cruelty and neglect laws are still needed and very much necessary.

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Courts may order forfeiture of horses in animal cruelty case

On September 20, 2019, the 11th District Court of Appeals in Ohio held that a sentencing court may order an animal cruelty offender to forfeit horses as a condition of probation without going through the more cumbersome process of a full forfeiture proceeding.

The history of this case is complicated. Defendant Bianca Marcellino was convicted after a jury trial of two counts of animal cruelty for neglecting two horses, which were found to be emaciated and suffering from rain rot. Bianca Marcellino stated in a sworn affidavit that she was the sole owner of the horses. However, just before her sentencing hearing, Bianca’s mother, Karen Marcellino, filed a motion claiming to be the owner in an attempt to block forfeiture of the horses to the Geauga County Humane Society. The Court found that there was no evidence supporting Karen’s claim and ordered the horses to be forfeited.

The horses were rehabilitated by the Humane Society and placed in a new home. 

Karen filed an appeal. The Court of Appeals dismissed her case, finding that the case was moot, as the horses were already placed with a new home. State v. Marcellino, 11th Dist. Geauga Nos. 2019-G-0199, 2019-G-0200, 2019-Ohio-3329. Karen filed a motion to reconsider, claiming that there should have been a separate forfeiture proceeding beyond the sentencing in her daughter’s case.

The Court of Appeals denied the motion to reconsider. This appears to be the first appellate case in Ohio holding specifically that a sentencing court may order forfeiture of livestock as a condition of probation under R.C. 959.99(D) without further court proceedings.

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Ashland County Resident Found Guilty in Cockfighting Case

State v. Benny Craft, a case we prosecuted which was investigated by the Ashland County Sheriff and the Ohio Department of Agriculture, with assistance from the Humane Society of Ashland County Ohio

Craft was found guilty after a jury trial of cockfighting, two counts of animal cruelty and one count of possession of criminal tools. Craft was found not guilty of 3 counts of criminal tools and 4 counts of cruelty.

Craft was sentenced to a total of 90 days in jail, $350 in fines, courts costs, forfeiture of the roosters seized and items found to be criminal tools. He was ordered to pay $1,070 restitution for veterinary and other care provided to the animals. Jail is suspended on condition that he successfully complete one year probation. During probation he may not possess chickens or other poultry, and he is subject to inspections.

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Woman Convicted of Companion Animal Cruelty Will Only Keep One Cat

State v. Marlowe, a case we prosecuted for Animal Charity of Ohio. Marlowe was convicted of companion animal cruelty for neglecting 5 dogs at her house. One was emaciated and dehydrated in an outdoor, fenced area. The others were inside the basement, covered in debris, including a large accumulation of fecal material and urine, causing the investigator’s eyes and throat to burn.

On sentencing, Marlowe was prohibited from owning, possessing or living at a residence with any animals, except one cat which must be kept in a humane, sanitary and lawful manner. She is subject to random inspections. If she violates, she will serve up to 90 days in jail. She was also ordered to pay $4500 in restitution to Animal Charity for care provided to her animals.

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Dog Owner Failed to Treat Pit Bull’s Mange

State v. Rionte Rees, a case we prosecuted for the Medina County SPCA.

Defendant was found guilty of companion animal neglect for failure to provide proper care of Babe, a 10 month old pit bull. Babe suffered from demodex mange and severe itching resulting in the loss of most of his fur.

Rees was sentenced to 90 days in jail. 77 days were suspended. He was credited for 13 days served. He was placed on probation for 2 years, and is required to pay $177.50 restitution. He is prohibited from owning, possessing or living at a residence with animals, and must submit to random inspections.

Babe 8 Weeks After Rescue

Babe, After 8 Weeks of Care Following Rescue

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Jailtime for Man Convicted of 9 Counts of Companion Animal Cruelty

State v. David Taylor a case we prosecuted for the Lake Humane Society resulting in a lifetime ban from keeping companion animals.

Taylor was convicted in the Willoughby Municipal Court of 9 counts of companion animal cruelty after trial for neglecting his three dogs, who were kept in a cluttered, dirty yard full of debris, including broken glass and nails. They suffered from severe flea infestation, open abrasions, bacterial infection, severe ear mites, fly strikes and whipworms.

In addition to the ban on keeping animals, Taylor was sentenced to 90 days in jail, 45 of which was suspended pending successful completion of one year probation including mental health assessment and treatment. He was fined $750 of which $500 is suspended.

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Probation and Fines for Neglectful Dog Breeder

State of Ohio v. Christopher Bittner, a case prosecuted for the Cleveland Animal Protective League.

Bittner plead no contest to two second degree misdemeanor counts pertaining to his neglect of 10 dogs. Bitter was breeding bulldogs and the operation got out of control, causing the dogs to suffer from an overwhelming odor of excrement and various untreated medical conditions.

Bittner was sentenced to 5 years of probation, during which time he cannot own, keep, or reside with any animal. He will undergo random inspections by the APL. He must pay $2,785.00 in restitution for the care of the dogs, plus court costs. He was also sentenced to pay $1,500.00 in fines, $1,400.00 of which was suspended. If Bittner fails to comply, he faces 180 days in jail and imposition of the additional fine.

Bittner dog

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As Temperatures Drop, a Reminder about Shelter Requirements

With the temperature in the teens for the next few days, we’re sending out a reminder about shelter requirements for companion animals pursuant to state code!

Cleveland enacted new animal neglect ordinances in December 2014, which were then enacted by several other localities. Those ordinances provide bright-line rules about what qualifies as appropriate shelter and higher penalties for violations. For cities that have not enacted stricter sheltering guidelines, state code governs.

Ohio Revised Code § 959.131(D)(3) provides that no person who is the custodian or caretaker of a companion animal shall negligently do the following:

“impound or confine the companion animal without affording it. during the impoundment or confinement, with access to shelter from heat, cold, wind, rain, snow, or excessive direct sunlight if it can reasonably be expected that the companion animal would become sick or suffer in any other way as a result of or due to the lack of adequate shelter.”

There is qualifying language to the shelter requirement — “if it can reasonably be expected that the companion animal would become sick or suffer in any other way as a result of or due to the lack of adequate shelter.”

This is a *proactive* statute that can be used in situations where the companion animal is provided with shelter, but that shelter is inadequate considering the extreme temperatures and due to that lack or inadequacy of shelter, the animal could reasonably be expected to suffer. Evidence of suffering is not a necessary element of this crime. The statute provides humane agents (or other law enforcement) with the proactive ability to seize an animal so that the animal does not have to suffer.

Some considerations for humane agents include the adequacy of the shelter in current winter conditions, any visible signs of suffering (such as “flipper walking” or shivering), the breed of dog or type of animal, and how long the animal has been confined outside.

Since R.C. § 959.131(D)(3) defines cruelty as the negligent confinement of a companion animal to a shelter in a manner in which it can reasonably be expected that the companion animal would become sick or suffer, and R.C. § 959.132 provides the authority for a humane agent to take possession of an animal cruelly treated, those two statutes authorize a humane officer to rescue animals from such conditions.

Moreover, some municipalities have ordinances prohibiting chaining or tethering that apply in these circumstances.

Of course, every shelter situation is different and law enforcement should consult with legal counsel and/or veterinary staff as needed.

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Over $17,000 Restitution Ordered for Care of Neglected Horses

State v. Patricia Floyd, a case we prosecuted which was investigated by Animal Charity of Ohio. Floyd pled guilty to 4 counts of animal cruelty for neglecting 7 horses. Two had extremely long hooves, several were dehydrated or excessively thin, and all were living in filthy conditions. Horses require regular hoof trimming by a qualified farrier. Lack of proper care can lead to this severe and painful deformity.

The horses were all surrendered. Floyd was ordered by the Youngstown Municipal Court to pay $17,400 in restitution to Happy Trails Farm Animal Sanctuary who did an excellent job rehabilitating these animals. Floyd will be subjected to random inspections for 5 years, and may not possess any animals other than two dogs she already possessed, which were in good condition.

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Owner Convicted for Neglecting Dog’s Severe Skin Condition

State v. Christopher Overton, a case we prosecuted in Youngstown investigated by Animal Charity of Ohio, the Humane Society which serves Mahoning County.

Mr. Overton had three dogs. Two were in good condition. The third had an extreme untreated skin condition which caused large sections of skin to be red, raw and bloody. Blood and flesh were found on the collar when it was removed.

Overton surrendered the dog to Animal Charity. Today he plead guilty to companion animal cruelty. Overton will be on probation for three years, and will be subjected to random inspections to make sure that he is providing proper care for his remaining dogs. He is not permitted to have other animals. He will pay $500 for the rehabilitation and care of this dog. If he violates any of these terms, he may be ordered to serve up to 90 days in jail.

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