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Animal neglect and trespass: What are Missouri’s laws?

It is said that laws do not teach good people what to do; they teach bad people what not to do. This could not be any more true when it comes to our pets.

We frequently hear stories of dogs chained up in a backyard, baking in the summer sun without fresh water or shade. Other times, individuals in rural areas leave their dogs loose, assuming no harm can result when they roam. Despite a chained dog without basic provisions sounding more disturbing than permitting a dog complete freedom in the countryside, both situations can develop serious consequences.

When adopting a pet, we are assuming the minimal responsibility to provide both care for and control over the animal. To most animal lovers, this seems like a no-brainer, but unfortunately, these most basic responsibilities can be overlooked.

Missouri’s laws provide rules as to the most basic elements conceivable when it comes to animal welfare. RSMo § 578.005(1) states that “adequate care” of an animal includes prudent attention to the needs of an animal—wholesome food, clean water, shelter, and veterinary care as needed. Clearly, these basic staples of life will not make for a happy and loved dog; it is, however, the legal minimum. Likewise, the statute’s subsection (2) defines an owner’s responsibility for “adequate control” as reasonable restraint or governance such that an animal may not injure itself, another animal, person, or property.

When an owner fails to provide adequate control over their dog, others sometimes have a right to take action. RSMo § 273.030 provides that if a trespassing dog is harassing or harming the livestock on another’s property, that the livestock’s owner may kill the dog—effecting a humane and immediate death. This should be a startling wakeup call for many rural families whom allow their dogs freedom from restraint. Simply chasing a neighbor’s confined sheep is enough for a trespassing dog to be killed on property not belonging to its owner.

Failing to provide either adequate care or control over one’s pets can result in charges of animal neglect or trespass.

Worse than neglect is animal abuse which, in its most heinous form, is when one purposefully causes suffering by torturing or mutilating a conscious animal. This is a class E felony.

We pet owners would hope that accidental lapses of control over our companions would result in a friendly call from the discoverer of our lost pet. This, though, relies on the goodness of others not to kill our dog if it is trespassing. We would like to live in a world in which these laws were not needed. Pet owners should not struggle to provide only the most minimal amount of care and control over their pet. Realistically, this is not the case; we must be vigilant for our pets and other animals which may suffer from our negligence or others’ ill intent.

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