Bad animal abuse cases less common in Boone County

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COLUMBIA - An animal control officer in Boone County said she does not see animal torture or mutilation cases that receive felony charges as much as she used to, but not necessarily because there are fewer of them.

Molly Aust said animal abusers are learning to fly under the radar, careful not to have witnesses or leave evidence.

Cassandra Rogers, Boone County assistant prosecuting attorney, said the only difference between criminal and animal abuse cases,  is "that the victim cannot speak for themselves" and "it can be harder to have, to find the information you need to find, whether there's been abuse or neglect or torture and mutilation."

A misdemeanor case is currently in the works at the Boone County Courthouse where a man is being charged with two misdemeanors for animal abuse and animal neglect. If found guilty, he could either be fined up to $1,000 or be sentenced up to 365 days in jail. His name has not been released while the investigation is ongoing.

Aust said he faces charges because a horse in his care was running loose and did not look healthy. Animal Control told the man to get veterinary care, but that didn't happen. The horse was removed from the man's care and died before the man's first hearing.

Animal abuse cases are treated the same as criminal cases in the Missouri court system, where those accused of animal abuse can either face misdemeanor or felony charges.

Rogers said felonies involve cases in which the "animal was abused and suffered as a result of torture or mutilation and that torture and mutilation was inflicted upon the animal while the animal was still alive."

Felony charges can amount up to four years in the Department of Corrections or a fine of up to $5,000.

General animal abuse cases start with Animal Control either receiving a phone call about an animal or driving by and seeing an animal not receiving proper food, water or shelter. 

Aust gave the example of a dog sitting in someone's backyard on a hot summer day without a dog house or adequate shade from the sun.

She said the Animal Control officers would tell the owner of the animal to get a dog house within a set time frame. If the officer checks back in after that time frame, and it does not have shelter of some sort, the officer can file a report and send it to the Boone County Sheriff's Department or the Columbia Police Department for further investigation. 

From there, the Boone County Prosecutor's Office looks at the reports provided by Animal Control and considers what charges the person should be facing.

"We are very fortunate because we have a really good relationship with the prosecutor's office," Aust said. "We have prosecutors who are very sympathetic to the Animal Control officers and the animals that we deal with."

Aust said, rather than jail or fine someone charged with animal abuse misdemeanors, judges put the abusers on probation and do not allow them to own an animal for up to two years.

Although two years does not seem like a lot of time, Aust said most people do not repeat animal abuse in Columbia, especially in cases where the abused animal passed away.

All animals found or removed from abusive owners go to the Central Missouri Humane Society (CMHS) for veterinary care and a chance at a happier life. CMHS rehabilitates the animal and either takes it into foster care for further emotional healing or puts it up for adoption if they believe it is ready to be placed with a family.