Animal cruelty: What's the law?

By Andy Jenks - bio | email
Posted by Terry Alexander - email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Prosecutors insist that no charges will be filed in the death of a dog belonging to Robin Starr, CEO of the Richmond SPCA. But that doesn't mean her troubles are over yet.

Prosecutors say, that because there's no intentional act, there's no crime. But the court of public opinion has its own way of judging the case.

When Robin Starr said her dog died because her husband placed it in her car, and forgot to tell her, she called it a "tragic accident" and the law, would appear to agree.

"No one intended for this dog to die. No one intentionally placed this dog into the car, into a hot car, and abandoned it. What we have is an accidental conduct, and under Virginia law, animal cruelty must be either a willful or intentional act," said Tracy Thorne-Begland, Chief Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney.

Indeed the law says it's a misdemeanor only if one willfully inflicts injury or pain. But there's also a section of city code that says a person is guilty if he or she "deprives any animal of necessary food, drink or shelter."

"Virginia law does not take into consideration, neglect or accident as an excuse," said Steve Benjamin, NBC12 Legal Analyst.

Prosecutors contend that part involves animals abandoned in a yard. Not accidentally left inside a car. But even if the Starr incident is not a crime, it's a public relations nightmare.

"This story will not go away fast. It's a very ironic story. It's a very unfortunate story. And so, the story isn't over yet," said Kelly O'Keefe, Managing Director of VCU Brandcenter.

Kelly says Robin Starr should go beyond her public admissions.

"She needs to turn it into action. Use it as an opportunity. This is happening not just to her, but to animal owners all over the country, every day of the week," said Kelly.

Even as prosecutors say their case is closed, at least for now.

"Our job is not to respond to moral outrage, our job is to apply facts to the law. And in this case, we don't have a willful or intentional act that rises to the level of animal cruelty," said Tracy.

We say "for now" because this afternoon, Richmond's Animal Control manager said "At this time, charges are not forthcoming for Robin Starr. The case remains under investigation."

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