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Defining animal cruelty in North Carolina: Knowing when to call the police or when to leave a letter
When I conduct educational programs, we discuss what the acronym SPCA stands for: Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

We discuss the individual meanings of the words and then the implication of putting these words together. Participants easily define society, prevention, and, of course, animals, but the word cruelty often trips them up.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “cruel” as: “1-disposed to inflict pain or suffering: devoid of human feelings 2-a: causing or conducive to injury, grief, or pain b: unrelieved by leniency.”

Yet, people often do not assign the same value to the word “cruelty” when applying it to animals.

Abuse and cruelty to animals is illegal in North Carolina. Abuse and cruelty also include neglect.

There is a range of criteria that constitute abuse and cruelty at the state, county, and city levels. The difference in how these cases are treated is determined by their appointment as misdemeanor or felony crimes.

Wake County Animal Control Ordinance: The definition of abuse in Wake County includes, but is not limited to, failing to provide adequate food and water for more than 24 hours; failing to provide adequate shelter; beating and torturing animals (among other things) resulting in physical pain, suffering, or death; and “failing to provide adequate medical attention for any sick, diseased, or injured animal in order to prevent physical pain, suffering, or death to the animal.”  This is only a sampling of the definition of “abuse” of animals in Wake County. You can read the entire ordinance and the definition at www.wakegov.com/pets/safety/ordinance.htm.

In Section 2-3-5 Cruelty to Animals the ordinance states “The words ‘torture’ and ‘torment’ shall be held to include every act, omission or neglect whereby unjustifiable physical pain, suffering or death is permitted.”

North Carolina General Statutes: Article 47, Cruelty to Animals. State law is closely mirrored by the county law but it elaborates on what qualifies as a misdemeanor or a felony.

Cruelty to animals committed intentionally – an act committed knowingly and without justifiable excuse – is a Class 1 misdemeanor.  Cruelty to animals committed maliciously – an act committed intentionally and with malice or bad motive – is guilty of a Class 1 felony.

Abuse, cruelty and neglect of animals is illegal in our state. It empowers us to take action when we understand how government defines these words. If you see an animal being treated in a way that falls into these categories, call your local law enforcement immediately.

If you are concerned about an animal’s quality of life but the animal is not being neglected according to the law, we’ve provided a handy letter for you.

-Vanessa Budnick

Produced by the SPCA of Wake County

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