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Pets Are Only Property, Says Oregon Court as it Sets Accused Abuser Free

Pets Are Only Property, Says Oregon Court as it Sets Accused Abuser Free

Because a veterinarian treated and tested an emaciated dog without a warrant after police lawfully seized it, the Oregon Court of Appeals has thrown out a woman’s animal neglect conviction. She will likely go free because of it.

How can it possibly pose a legal problem to get medical treatment for a starving, abused dog? Providing the medical care itself wasn’t the issue. Relying on that treatment information as evidence in court, however, was another matter.

Oregon, it seems, doesn’t believe an animal has any inherent legal right to medical care.

How Authorities Discovered What Was Going On

The Oregon Humane Society (OHS) dispatched an animal cruelty investigator in 2010 to look into a report that Amanda Newcomb was starving and beating her dog, Juno, as well as leaving the dog in a kennel for hours on end. That investigator, accompanied by a police officer, saw the dog “in near emaciated condition” at Newcomb’s home, “kind of eating at random things in the yard, and trying to vomit.”

The officer seized the dog, believing it “appeared neglected” and that there was a “strong possibility” it needed medical attention. He took it to an OHS veterinarian, who took blood and fecal samples and fed the poor dog.

Over time, the veterinarian’s care revealed that Juno’s condition was due to malnourishment, not to any underlying disease or condition. Oregon prosecutors used this information in court to prove Newcomb starved and mistreated her dog. They won a conviction, which Newcomb appealed.

Here’s where the fate of abused domesticated animals in Oregon took an unfortunate turn for the worse.

The Defendants Constitutional Argument: Pets Are Property

Newcomb argued on appeal that her dog was personal property. As such, she argued, she had a constitutionally protected privacy interest in Juno just as she would for other personal items like a pocket knife or a pair of boots.

As the court described Newcomb’s argument:

[A]t the time [the officer] seized the dog, he did not have probable cause to believe that the reason it was skinny was because of some failure on [defendant's] part. As a result, defendant argued, all “derivative evidence” of the warrantless seizure should be suppressed.

Scared abused dog

More to the point, the evidence that convicted Newcomb revealed “information not otherwise exposed to public view,” she argued. The vet’s test results “reveal[ed] all these intimate details about the dog’s body chemistry, about its blood levels, about its feeding habits, all of these things were information that was not otherwise exposed to public view.”

That being the case, Newcomb argued, authorities should have first obtained a search warrant to do such testing if they wanted to use those results against her in court.

Court Rejects States Novel Argument That Animals Have a Right to Care

The trial court found that the veterinarian’s actions did not constitute a search and required no warrant. Newcomb was convicted of second-degree animal neglect.

On appeal, the state defended the conviction by arguing that “although [animals] are property in the eyes of the law, they have a statutory right to basic care separate and apart from their owners’ possessory interests.” Unfortunately, the Oregon Appeals Court did not agree.

Disturbingly, the appeals court instead rejected what it called “the state’s novel claim that an animal’s statutory rights ‘trump’ a defendant’s constitutional rights.”

Animals, held the court, are sentient creatures statutorily protected from abuse, but are also recognized under the law as having owners. If they are property, they fall under the same constitutional search and seizure rules as any other type of property.

Ultimately, the court concluded that while seizure of the dog was accomplished legally, “the extraction and testing of the dog’s blood was a ‘search,’ because those actions constitute a physical invasion of defendant’s personal property that revealed otherwise concealed evidence.”

See a news story that includes an interview with the defendant, Amanda Newcomb, at this link.

Animals Are Beings, Too

What a sad result. Oregon’s lower courts had recognized this dog’s independent right to care, and a higher court slapped them down for it. Because Juno’s medical treatment information made up the bulk of the case against Newcomb, retrying her without that evidence is unlikely to happen.

Will this result force Oregon authorities to choose between getting immediate emergency care for abused animals or wasting precious hours while they seek a warrant? Without that warrant, anything revealed by the medical treatment of the animal is unlikely to be admissible evidence.

Perhaps it’s time for Oregon and other states to recognize that animals, like humans, do indeed have a right to medical care in these situations.  They need to be recognized as more than mere “property.” Animals are beings in their own right. They are not pocket knives or boots.

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Photo credits: Thinkstock

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12:34PM PDT on Aug 4, 2014

These critters are our fur babies and deserve their time in court too. In the case of divorce - use King Solomon example with a twist: put contesting partners on either side of court and let our fur babies chose which is the better custodial 'parent'.

11:26AM PDT on Aug 1, 2014

Inanimate objects are property and possessions not living, breathing, feeling creatures like cats, dogs, birds, etc. that can feel love, pain, neglect, etc.

9:48AM PDT on Aug 1, 2014

This judge needs to get a clue about how most people these days feel about animals. They may not be important to him but they are to millions if not billions of us. This woman should be banned from ever having an animal again. She should have to sign a register for Animal Abusers. The MEN of this world need to wake up and issue justice when it is needed. What a prick to say Animals are Property. No man has the right to own any living being. This is such BS. Everyone stand up. Lets do something to show these morons that animals are so much more important then this Judge believes they are. What a disappointment.

12:13PM PDT on Jul 1, 2014

This stupid woman must be the demon comes from hell!!! She has no right to have anything at all if she doesn't take good care of what she so-called "property". If she doesn't fill gas in her car, it doesn't run. Furthermore, if she uses her car to rob the bank, or drive like a maniac, run into bump, jump the bridge and so on without taking good care or the car, insurance will drop her without a doubt. So even a dog is MORE THAN PROPERTY, not only she's beyond guilty and should go to HELL!!!! including the stupid court in Oregon is filling in her stupidity, they are equally guilty and should be ripped off their position and license/certificate. This is completely absurd. So sad that they wasted so much court time and money where they should have spent on the poor dog which in return, dogs are humans most loyal and best friend. Those who consider and can't recognize from a sentient being to property, should disappear from the face of this planet because they are a total waste. To live without compassion is to live without a guidance. Shame on that bitch and the court of Oregon. I pray that this poor little dog is in good hands.

11:04AM PDT on May 27, 2014

Idiot! Petition signed

9:37PM PDT on May 22, 2014

The dog, any animal, is a living, breathing being. It should have the right to and be able to expect care and feeding from the person responsible for its food and shelter. The dog was abused and emaciated. That was in plain view. In my book, that is all that is needed; care was not being given. Idiot courts do not know or understand the difference between a life and a shovel. Oregon has just turned on the green light for abuse it seems. Totally shameful.

1:11PM PDT on May 21, 2014

I hope this bitch is slowly starved to death and beaten to death!!! SLOWLY so she suffers like hell!!! And the same to the bastards that let her off!!! I do not see mention of the dog now - I am PRAYING a new home was found?!!! PLEASE!!!!!!!

9:23PM PDT on May 15, 2014

This makes my blood boil. If that bitch had spent as much energy taking care of her pet as she did defending the indefensible, this would not be happening. This one act by an evil piece of shit has now set a precedent of giving carte blanc to abusers to abuse, leaving a trail of misery for animals in its wake. The appeals court can kiss my ass and the bitch can go straight to hell.

2:24PM PDT on May 13, 2014

Basic logic seems to be missing here. Have we all taken leave of our senses, and cannot see that a living creature needs care?

2:24PM PDT on May 13, 2014

Basic logic seems to be missing here. Have we all taken leave of our senses, and cannot see that a living creature needs care?

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