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Define 'animal cruelty'

Robert Fullmer was sentenced to 40 days' jail time for allegedly smothering puppies on the basis that it was inhumane. Many animal control agencies use a vacuum chamber to kill animals, which results in death by smothering, so what exactly defines "animal cruelty," or is this law being applied subjectively? I can understand that pouring gasoline on an animal and setting it on fire would be an inhumane act, of course. But can the law also be applied to a hunter who accidentally wounds a deer that runs off and dies? How about if my dog is screaming in pain or so sick I have to shoot it in the head to end its suffering? Is that an inhumane act?

— Carl. W., Eagle Point.

In the eyes' of the law, animal cruelty sometimes comes down to intent.

Jackson County District Attorney Mark Huddleston cites Oregon law, which says a person commits the crime of animal abuse if the person intentionally, knowingly or recklessly injures or "cruelly causes the death" of an animal. The statute exempts the killing animals when authorized by law, which is designed to cover animal shelters, Huddleston says.

In June 2009, Fullmer, a Talent resident, was convicted of three counts of aggravated animal abuse, the most serious type of animal abuse, he says.

"The puppies that he killed belonged to his roommate," Huddleston says. "He was watching the dogs for her while she was in jail and told investigators that their whining was driving him crazy."

His intention, therefore, didn't appear to be to spare the puppies from pain but to spare himself the inconvenience of having to listen to them whine.

"So as far as criminal charges are concerned, the law looks in part to the state of mind of the defendant," Huddleston says.

Furthermore, Jackson County Animal Control does not use a vacuum chamber to kill animals, the method you mentioned in your question.

Lethal injection is the only authorized method of animal euthanasia in Oregon, according to Colleen Macuk, program manager at Jackson County Animal Control.

She recommends leaving animal euthanasia to professionals such as animal control agencies and veterinarians, who perform it on animals that are sick, injured or possibly dangerous.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by e-mail to youasked@mailtribune.com. We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.