Anna Nelson, a 51-year-old former animal control officer, was charged Monday April 29 with animal cruelty in Wareham District Court. The government alleges that Nelson withheld veterinary care for her sick dog. The defendant allegedly told an MSPCA investigator that she was “too proud” to seek care for the dog.
A neighbor allegedly reported the dog’s poor condition to an animal control officer in December. The neighbor allegedly told the officer that the dog, a terrier mix, was emaciated and could barely stand without collapsing. The officer took the dog to a veterinarian, who concluded that the dog’s condition was likely caused by negligence and an underlying disease process. The dog was ultimately put to sleep. The government claims that Nelson admitted to being the dog’s owner and told investigators that she could not afford veterinary treatment. She allegedly said that she did not seek help because her “pride got in the way.” Nelson was arrested on April 27, and her pre-trial date is presently scheduled for June 13.
Massachusetts General Laws chapter 272, section 77 governs the crime of cruelty to animals. In addition to prohibiting cruelly beating, mutilating, and killing animals, the statute prohibits unnecessarily failing to provide an animal “with proper food, drink, shelter, sanitary environment, or protection from the weather…”
As a Massachusetts criminal defense attorney, it seems that this defendant might argue that the statute imposes no obligation to seek veterinary care when an animal is experiencing a natural decline in health. Veterinary care is not included in this statutory list. “Cruelty” in the context of this law means severe pain inflicted without justifiable cause. Here, the defendant might argue that while the dog may have experienced pain, the cause was not attributable to the owner but, rather, to the natural disease process. For instance, the dog’s emaciated state could be the result of disease, as the veterinarian noted, as opposed to the owner’s failure to provide the dog with food or drink. The owner might also argue that failure to seek veterinary care was justifiable, as she could not afford it. In one case, the Appeals Court declined to answer the question of whether necessary sustenance includes medical care because, in that case, there was ample evidence of deprivation of food.
If convicted of animal cruelty, pursuant to the statute this former animal control officer will not be able to work in any capacity that involves contact with an animal, including an animal control facility as well as a shelter, pet shop, breeder service, veterinary hospital or animal welfare society. The crime carries a potential penalty of up to 2 ½ years in the house of correction or up to five years in the state prison.