Court: In emergencies, animals have rights, too

The Supreme Judicial Court ruled today that police don't need a warrant to try to save animals in danger of immediate death.

The decision comes in the case of a Lynn woman charged with three counts of animal cruelty when police, responding to a call from her neighbor, found three dogs on her lawn - two dead, one nearly so - and went into her yard to recover the animals without first obtaining a warrant.

The state's highest court said this fell under an exemption to the Fourth Amendment and the similar Article 14 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights that allows warrantless searches and seizures to save a life:

In agreement with a number of courts in other jurisdictions that have considered the issue, we conclude that, in appropriate circumstances, animals, like humans, should be afforded the protection of the emergency aid exception.

In its decision, the court describes the scene in Heather Duncan's front yard on Jan. 11, 2011, after responding to a call from a neighbor:

The neighbor informed the officers that she had gone to the defendant's home to retrieve a borrowed snow shovel; no one responded to her arrival, but she heard a dog barking and looked through or over the privacy fence and saw what she knew to be the defendant's dogs. Two apparently were deceased.

The officers heard a dog "whimpering and very hoarsely and weakly barking as if it had almost lost its voice, noting that it sounded like an animal in distress." In order to get a better view into the yard, they stepped on a nearby snowbank that was several feet in height. Inside the yard, they saw two motionless dogs, apparently frozen and leashed to the fence, partially inside and partially outside a doghouse. A third dog, alive but emaciated, was leashed to the fence and barking. The officers did not see any food or water laid out for the dogs.

Due to the padlocked gate, police were unable to access the front door of the house. Instead, they engaged the siren, emergency lights, and air horn of their police cruiser to alert the residents of their presence, to no avail. One officer also directed another at the police station to use the local water and sewer directory to reach the registered owner of the property. These efforts were unsuccessful. Pursuant to police protocol for handling animal-related emergencies, officers then contacted the fire department to remove the padlock on the gate and enter the yard. After police gained entry to the yard, they contacted animal control; an animal control officer arrived and took custody of the three dogs. All of the responders cleared the premises by 4:56 P.M.

Duncan sought to have the three counts of animal cruelty thrown out because animals did not have the right of an "emergency exception" for constitutional requirements for a search warrant. The judge in her trial then sought guidance from the SJC.

The court set to answer the question of "whether the public interest underlying the emergency aid exception, in facilitating immediate first aid response to those in danger of harm or physical injury, applies with equal force to animals."

The court noted the existence of numerous laws affording aimed at preventing cruelty to animals and noted that in 2012, the legislature passed a law that let judges consider the welfare of pets when consiering whether to issue protective orders.

In light of the public policy in favor of minimizing animal suffering in a wide variety of contexts, permitting warrantless searches to protect nonhuman animal life fits coherently within the existing emergency aid exception to the warrant requirement, intended to facilitate official response to an "immediate need for assistance for the protection of life or property." ...

In addition to promoting life-saving measures, the ability to render such assistance vindicates the legislative framework for preventing cruelty to animals, particularly the provision regulating the conditions under which dogs may be kept outside. See G.L. c. 140, § 174E. Indeed, it would be illogical and inconsistent to permit the prosecution of dog owners for exposing their dogs to conditions that "could injure or kill [them]" in ill-equipped yards, G.L. c. 140, § 174E (f ) (1), only after the harm to animal life has taken place, while hindering the ability of police proactively to prevent such injury. Furthermore, the inclusion of animals within the ambit of the emergency aid exception enables trained personnel, such as police or animal control officers, to respond to animal emergencies, rather than lay people. In the absence of such trained professionals rendering care and assistance, untrained citizens may attempt to intervene, potentially causing further harm to the animal, to themselves, or to other members of the community, should an injured animal end up loose on public streets.

We therefore conclude that our prior formulations of the emergency aid exception encompass warrantless searches to protect nonhuman animal life.

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      as liberal and as lenient as

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      as liberal and as lenient as MA laws and judges are, I have noticed that they take abuse on animals and elderly very seriously

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      Not making excuses for Heather Duncan but...

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      She may have not right to claim her husband's property (the dogs) at the time of the incident or might have been to afraid too.

      ~~~~~~~~~~~~

      "By early 2011, Ms. Duncan was estranged from her husband and had sought a protective order. She requested that police accompany her to the home to serve the court order on him. At the time, the police officers noticed three dogs inside the fence, who seemed thin and unhealthy. In response to their questions, she said the dogs belonged to her and her husband, and that she would take care of them.

      About a week later, on January 8, 2011, a cold, windy and snowy day, police were again called to the home, this time by a friend of Heather Duncan's. The woman reported that she had come by to retrieve a snow shovel, saw no one at home but observed two dead and one live dog inside the fence. "

      - See more at: http://www.animalsandsociety.org/blog/is-a-dying-dog-an-emergency#sthash...

      ~~~~~~~~~

      And this law did not pass until 2012:
      http://www.aahanet.org/blog/NewStat/post/2012/11/28/589497/New-Massachus...

      A new Massachusetts law aimed at protecting pets from potentially dangerous domestic violence environments has been put to use for the first time, according to the Taunton Daily Gazette.

      A 6-year-old dog named Panzer from Marshfield, Mass., was the first beneficiary of the recently passed Senate Bill 2192, which gives courts the power to grant custody of pets to domestic violence victims and take measures to provide a safer environment for the animals.

      The law was set in motion when Panzer's 38-year-old owner filed for a restraining order against her allegedly abusive boyfriend, whom she accused of kicking and dragging the dog in the past, according to the Daily Gazette.

      The woman also told the court that her boyfriend might try to abduct the dog if given the chance.

      After the court issued a protection order in the case, Marshfield animal control officers placed Panzer with a foster family until his owner and her son are safely able to leave the domestic violence shelter where they are staying. “I give her updates (about Panzer) by phone,” Deni Michele Goldman, Marshfield animal control officer, told the Daily Gazette. “And once she gets settled into a safe place, she will have her dog again.”

      The situation is illustrative of the correlation found between domestic violence and animal abuse, Goldman told the media. According to her, more than 70 percent of people reporting domestic violence have also reported that the abusers made threats against pets - often in an attempt to force the abuse victim to stay around.

      It's one thing at beat and

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      It's one thing at beat and beat a women who won't leave her abuser but it's another thing when a helpless pet who can't escape is beaten. I wish more women would leave these types
      Of men. Sad that people are so mentally Ill that they abuse people and pets

      What? Seriously?

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      SHE is the one who neglected and killed the dogs!

      Maybe unintentional, but

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      Your comment implies that victims of domestic violence (male or female) willingly stay with their abusers - "women who won't leave." It's not that simple, and often the victims can't leave for a variety of reasons (fear that if they leave they will be found and killed, a mistaken belief that the violence is their fault, immigration issues, financial issues, etc.). Also, even if a human victim is capable of leaving, it doesn't make the violence any less terrible. I don't think that is what you are saying, but thought it was worth clarifying.

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      It's not as simple as people make it out to be

      Data seem to show that there are "serial abusees" out there -- victims who get out of one abusive relationship only to get into another, over and over again. My point is by no means "blame the victim"... my point is that the psychological dynamics of relationships are highly complex, and that the people who say the the victim "just ought to get out of the relationship" and the people who say "they can't" are both missing the boat.

      No food? No water? No shelter?

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      I'm having a hard time imagining a scenario that would've kept her from giving these dogs even the basic care they needed to stay alive. Horrible.

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      what?

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      " At the time, the police officers noticed three dogs inside the fence, who seemed thin and unhealthy. In response to their questions, she said the dogs belonged to her and her husband, and that she would take care of them. "

      Read that repeatedly until you understand it.

      She was there with police protection, they pointed out the dogs who were already in tough shape, and said she'd take care of them.

      She didn't have a problem asking for police to serve an order, but apparently she had a problem asking for police to escort her to feed them, nor did she contact animal services, nor ask neighbors, friends, or family for help.

      What's a shame here is that police apparently felt bad for her, and thus didn't call animal control right then. It's still her fault she accepted responsibility and neglected them, but they had plenty of reason to suspect the dogs might be in danger, and act to protect them by notifying animal control.

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      license to search without warrant

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      if they see a cat in the window, bust the door! Then say in the police report the cat looked emaciated and distressed.

      That is the way this will work in practice. Suckers!