(1) Do not reduce/dismiss animal related charges in exchange for a plea to other non-animal related charges (even if the non-animal related charges are more serious).
Animal abuse is often linked to other crimes such as domestic violence, elder abuse, and child abuse. When an animal is involved other crimes against persons cases there are separate important components of punishment that should be ordered, such as specialized animal abuse treatment and a court order against possession of animals. Further, there are enhanced future penalties provided for in the law for repeat offenders; it is important that those enhanced forms of punishment can be utilized if the offender re-offends against an animal.
(2) Say NO to a “nolo”!
In order to prevent abuse from reoccurring an offender should be required to get treatment. During that treatment it is important that the offender admit his/her actions. A no contest plea allows a defendant to deny their conduct and will impede successful intervention.
(3) Always include the condition that the defendant is not permitted to have any animals in his/her custody, control or household. Do not return victim animals to the offender.
Allowing an animal abuser to continue to have access to that animal victim is setting that animal up to be abused again. It may also be important to order that any other animals be removed from the home.
The only exception to this may be in the case of an animal hoarder. Permitting the defendant to maintain a couple fixed pets can be a good justification for inspections to check on these animals and look for evidence that any additional animals have been acquired in violation of court orders. Defendants who are charged with hoarding are highly likely to re-offend (especially without treatment) so it is a good idea to keep a close eye on them.
(4) Do not allow community service with animals.
Defense attorneys may suggest that their client perform community service at an animal shelter or something similar. They may argue that ordering a defendant to care for animals would be good for that particular defendant. However, having a defendant perform community service working with animals is NOT appropriate for a case involving animal abuse. This does not mean the defendant could not be ordered to work with the local sanitation department removing deceased animals from the roadways.
(5) Order a psychological evaluation prior to sentencing if possible and always order appropriate treatment as a condition of probation.
For hoarding cases, ask the prosecuting attorney or the defense attorney to find a provider who is familiar with hoarding issues and has treated them in the past. The same would apply if you are dealing with a case involving domestic violence or one that is sexual in nature. Be sure that the treatment will actually address the particular acts of the defendant. If possible, order an evaluation prior to sentencing because it may dictate what additional conditions should be placed on the defendant. If getting an evaluation up front is not possible, an evaluation and treatment should be ordered as a condition of probation.
(6) Consider ordering the defendant to pay for the cost of caring for the animal during the pendency of the case.
Although Georgia does not have a specific statute in place to address cost of care for an animal while the case is pending there is nothing that prohibits a judge from ordering that the defendant be responsible for paying for things such as vet bills incurred to treat or save an animal’s life because of the action or inaction of the defendant. The shelter (or location where the animal is being held while the case is pending) will be able to tell you how much it costs to house, feed, and treat the animal. If the defendant has not been previously ordered to pay the cost of care for the animal the cost should be ordered as restitution.