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Legally Speaking

 

Issue: April, 2006
Author: James F. Davis

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Legislature Enacts Cost of Care Bonding in Animal Cruelty Cases

In March of 2004, Powell farmers Ted Jones and Mary Laverty stopped their pick-up along a remote farm road in Park County and looked across a fence at the noticeably poor condition of some 40 head of cattle and horses. The animals were in bad shape even for winter conditions; their ribs and hips protruded through their hides and they appeared generally lethargic and unhealthy. Ted and Mary saw no sign the animals had any source of food except for a few trees stripped of bark and patches of weeds scattered over an otherwise barren lot. The available water lay in shallow, stagnant pools in a boggy drain ditch spiked with various animal remains.

Despite the animals’ condition, Ted was reluctant to say anything. He later testified that it was an unspoken tradition among livestock producers to hesitate before reporting how a neighbor cares for livestock; getting livestock through the winter can sometimes mean low rations and thin cows. Mary, who grew up elsewhere, didn’t have Ted’s cultural inhibitions. After a couple of days, she dropped a call to a local veterinarian, who called the brand inspector, who in turn called the sheriff. In short order, the State seized the animals, the bank took the cows, and the State placed the horses for proper feed and care. The Park County Attorney’s office filed animal cruelty charges against Bill Chapman, Sr., and his daughter, Samantha Taylor, and nearly a year after the seizure a Park County jury found both guilty on a multitude of animal cruelty counts for failure to provide both feed and water.

Circuit Court Judge, Bruce B. Waters, credited the defendants with the delay of nearly a year in getting to trial (at one point the prosecutor filed a “Vigorous Opposition” to a defense motion to continue). In the interim, the court refused to return the animals to Chapman because Chapman did not present the court with an adequate plan to care for the animals. Throughout the proceedings the Wyoming Livestock Board paid the costs of feed and care. At sentencing, the court ordered that Chapman pay approximately $43,000 in restitution to the Livestock Board.

The delay in the trial underscored problems with the seizure of animals in an animal cruelty case. In an attempt to address those problems, legislators passed a bill in Cheyenne this year requiring that a charged defendant post a bond to cover costs of feed and care pending trial.

The new law, Wyoming Statute § 11-28-114, authorizes any peace officer, agent or officer of the Wyoming Livestock Board to take possession of and impound any animal treated cruelly as determined by a licensed veterinarian or a veterinarian employed by the Livestock Board. After the animal’s owner has been cited or otherwise charged, the owner must, within 10 days of impoundment, post a bond with the circuit court in an amount determined by the court to be sufficient to provide for the animal’s board, nutritional care, veterinary care and diagnostic testing.
The initial bond covers the first 90 days of impoundment. If the owner wants to prevent disposition of the animals, he or she must post another 90-day bond, and so on, until the case is resolved. If a bond is not posted, the Livestock Board can sell or otherwise dispose of the animals in accordance with reasonable practices for the humane treatment of animals. If a bond has been posted, the Livestock Board or the agency employing the peace officer involved may draw on the bond to cover the costs of care.

Wyoming falls in line with several other states with similar laws. Other states vary in the amount of time the bond covers and establish more detailed provisions for a due process-type hearing prior to sale or other disposition of the animals. The due process aspect in Wyoming’s law would apparently occur at the initial hearing before the circuit court and at succeeding bond extension hearings. Regardless, the law helps to address the problem faced by law enforcement around the state in deciding what to do with cruelly treated animals, particularly when it involves relatively large numbers of livestock. It attempts to avoid the large outlays faced by the Livestock Board in the Park County case, particularly at a time when the Livestock Board’s budget has been strapped.

The legislature also amended W.S. § 11-29-106 to make it clear that law enforcement agents, other than those employed by the Livestock Board, have the authority to interfere to prevent the cruel treatment of animals, and repealed W.S. § 11-29-107, which had addressed how costs of care were charged to a convicted defendant and established liens in favor of the agency or local government seizing the animals. The law became effective upon the Governor’s signature. The legislature will continue to examine aspects of cost of care bonding in an interim committee.


James F. Davis is a Deputy Park County and Prosecuting Attorney living in Cody, Wyoming.


Copyright © 2006 – Wyoming State Bar

     

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