The Oregon Supreme Court has ruled the animals can be treated as victims in legal cases, effectively affording animals the same protections humans have in abuse cases. The ruling stems from a 2009 court case in which the defendant was convicted of starving 20 horses and goats on his property. The defendant argued that because the law defines animals as property, he should not have been charged with separate counts of neglect for each animal. The judge disagreed, arguing that each animal was a separate victim.
The ruling is expected to result in longer sentences for those convicted of animal abuse. According to Lora Dunn, staff attorney for the Animal Legal Defense Fund in Portland, the ruling may also change how law enforcement responds to animal abuse calls, as it may eliminate the need for law enforcement to obtain a warrant in certain circumstances to investigate claims of neglect or abuse. “To acknowledge that animals are victims of crime, that’s really common sense to us,” said Dunn.