UNDERSTANDING ANIMAL CRUELTY
NCGS Article 47 Section 14-360


The North Carolina General Statute Article 47 Section 14-360 "Cruelty to Animals" works just fine, it's forthright in it's wording and is easy to follow. Most of North Carolina laws are written in pretty straight forward language with not a lot of 'legalese'. Any regulation, or law is however, subject to interpretation, and that can be a pretty slippery slope. If we all thought alike, we probably wouldn't need as many laws as we have because we'd all be acting alike, or we'd all be thinking alike. And we don't.

And therein lies the difference; it is human nature to interpret the laws to fit our own best interests. The prosecution ( District Attorney ) thinks one way, and the attorney for the defense thinks another.

And ALWAYS there is the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.

It is frequently the law as we interpret it, not the 'letter' of the law that we try to make fit our particular case. But it is the LETTER of the law that must be met. Granted, there are animals in North Carolina that are not being cared for as you or I would like to see, but that is our opinion: dogs that don't have fresh water, dogs that need grooming, nails trimmed, better shelter, 'junkyard dogs', all, in my opinion, need better than what is being offered. Is the lack of those amenities causing 'unjustifiable pain, suffering or death'? No.

Is that 'Intentional', or with Malice? No.

Is it neglectful, certainly. But to the extent that the law requires? Probably not.

Can we prove that scummy green water is life threatening? Probably not. Would we want to drink it - no. And it doesn't bode well for responsible care, but is it causing undue pain, suffering or death? No.

Left to their own resources, many dogs willingly drink ditch water, rain puddles, etc.. Is this necessarily good for them ? Maybe, maybe not. How many times have we taken our dogs for a run and had to pull them away from ditch water or puddles? One can argue that certain bacterias are transmitted this way, another can argue that trace minerals can be obtained this way that are not available in our 'city' water supply.

Does it meet the Elements of the Crime of Cruelty to Animals? Can we prove that over grown toenails and matted coats are cruel? Only if it meets the elements of 'undue pain, suffering or death'.

Shelter is not required by statute, and the term 'sustenance' means food. If lack of shelter resulted in undue suffering, pain or death, then I would consider the 'sustenance' route if the animal was intentionally or maliciously deprived of same.

The word 'Sustentation' means 'Life Support', Maintenance. I would argue that would be a better word for the Statute. And I would argue that 'anything that sustains life' was the INTENT of the law.

It would not mean that all animals had to have shelter, only that if the lack of same caused pain, suffering or death.

Many animals may do better without shelter, and in the general climate of North Carolina lack of shelter would not be considered life threatening. Shelter does not mean four walls and a roof; it can be trees, a wind break, loafing shed, old cars, a piece of plyboard propped up against a tree, under the porch, etc.

Some horses actually do better with no shelter - loafing sheds may induce the animal to stay there most of the time, urinating etc., and causing hoof conditions that could be alleviated by open pasturing.

I remember one of my FIRST 'cruelty' cases -- man owned a dog with sarcoptic mange, and was treating it with burnt cylinder oil. I was concerned with the petroleum distillates, liver function, etc., -- but guess what -- I didn't get my warrant and the oil cured the mange. Was what he was doing cruel? no. Was it better than nothing? yes. Did it meet accepted Veterinary practice (not for the time); Did it work? Yes.

What did I learn? That the Elements of the Crime must be met. I could not prove my 'case'; I could not meet the Elements of the Crime. The wording at the time was 'Wilfull Intent', it is now 'Shall Intentionally' [NGCS 14.360 (a)] but ' Wilfull Intent' was explained to me this way: "I'm not going to feed this dog, cat, horse, cow, etc. because I want to see how long it will take for it to starve to death". That is 'willfully' causing undue pain, suffering or death.

Malicious intent [NCGS14-360(b)] was, as I understand it, put into the law to address additional issues with dog fighting, and damages to a third party. The person owning the winning dog has maliciously caused damage to the other dog, and subsequently the owner of that dog by depriving him/her of a source of income.

Many times the family dog is caught in the middle of a neighborhood dispute. Neighbor 'A' borrows a chain saw from neighbor 'B' and looses it/breaks it, etc. and refuses to compensate neighbor B for said loss. Neighbor B then goes over and shoots Neighbor A's dog, meeting the 'Malicious intent' requirement and causing injury or death of said dog.

Dogs are also caught in domestic disputes, not the same as being a victim of displaced aggression ( beat the dog, not the wife ). Girlfriend cheats on boyfriend, boyfriend takes dog and dumps in country, sells at flea market, takes to shelter, etc.

There could be grounds for two charges in this scenario, Larceny ( a felony ) and Abandonment.

I have tried to educate rather than legislate, and have worked within the premise that that there IS an 'excuse' for ignorance of the law.

If I go to Mr. Brown and explain to him that his dog/cat/horse/cow etc. needs to be fed, and give him a reasonable time to effect changes in the condition by presenting a better looking animal, Veterinary records, feedstore receipts, etc. then if he doesn't comply it becomes intentional -- and I have documentation and evidence that he has been offered assistance and information to help him make changes in his manner of husbandry.

I then have probable cause to believe that on or about [date] the defendant did ( the elements of the crime ) [deprive of necessary sustenance] that caused undue pain and suffering to one red longhaired mixed breed dog known to this investigator by the name offered by the defendant as 'Rusty'. At this point I Swear or Attest before a Magistrate in the County in which I am alleging the crime has been committed and that the information is true to the best of my knowledge. A court date will be assigned and the papers will be delivered to the law enforcement agency responsible for serving the Warrant or Criminal Summons.

It is always better to Educate rather than Legislate.

There certainly are cases where the conditions of the animals can be proven to be painful and result in suffering, if not death. These are usually very high profile cases, resulting in media coverage and even changes in venues due to adverse publicity before the trial. Fortunately, these extreme situations are rare, but as horrendous as these are, the elements of the crime, and the letter of the law must be followed or our Justice system will not function as our Founding Fathers intended.

Again, always remember the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.

For those of you that may be interested, I would recommend the Institute of Government Publication "Arrest, Search and Investigation in North Carolina" by Robert L. Farb. ISBN#1-56011-005-8 and the supplement ISBN# 1-56011-005-6. Both address Constitutional Law and North Carolina Criminal Law and Procedure.

These may have been republished since 1986 / 1989 but I'm sure the Institute of Government Publication could advise you.

Kathryn Smith
Former Cruelty Investigator, Craven County Humane Society 1976-1992
Former Cruelty Investigator, Craven County 1986-2000


The opinions of the writer are not to be construed as legal advise. We recommend that you seek legal counsel or discuss your situation with your local Magistrate or District Attorney.

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