Virginia Court of Appeals affirms animal cruelty felony conviction where defendant claimed insufficient funds to get veterinary care
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The nation is overpopulated with cats and dogs. When a person is unable properly to care for a pet, bringing the animal to a shelter does not automatically solve the matter. Many animal shelters find themselves with so many animals that they resort to euthanizing many of them.
In Virginia, a person who “willfully inflicts inhumane injury or pain not connected with bona fide scientific or medical experimentation” is guilty of a class 6 felony if death results from such behavior. This week, Virginia’s Court of Appeals affirmed such a conviction where the prosecutor’s case including evidence of failure to bring the deceased dog, Hannibal, to a veterinarian when ill, and evidence of providing insufficient food and water to Hannibal. Pelloni v. Virginia, ___ Va. App. ___ (Feb. 2, 2016).
Defendant Nicholas Peloni testified at trial to having had insufficient funds for veterinary treatment. Sadly, even if Peloni had brought Hannibal to an animal shelter, there was no guarantee that Hannibal would not have become subject to euthanization if in an overcrowded shelter and not adopted. However, Hannibal likely fared worse by staying at Pelloni’s home, where investigators discovered several underweight pets, many so underweight that their bones were sticking through their fur.
What can a criminal defense lawyer advise to people to avoid prosecution and conviction for cruelty to animals? For starters, do not own a pet in the first place if you are not positive you can adequately care for the pet. Second, always provide sufficient food, water, and personal and veterinary caring for the pet. Third, if you become unable adequately to care for the pet, seek a replacement home for the pet, or bring it to a shelter.
If a person is criminally charged with animal cruelty, of course the defendant and his or her lawyer will want to review the case and evidence with a fine-tooth comb and to analyze all defenses, including challenging the extent to which the defendant’s action or inaction was actually responsible for the animal’s injury or death in the first place.