Most people avoid thinking about animal cruelty, but two groups recently joined efforts to train and support law enforcement officials who encounter these cases across Mississippi.

Mississippi State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and the Mississippi Animal Control and Protection Association hosted a course for animal control officers, veterinarians and others at MSU’s Wise Center on Sept. 13. The goal of the course was to increase awareness of animal cruelty issuesand the laws related to them.

One of the instructors, Ken Sullivan, works for the Rankin County Sheriff’s Department and is president of the Mississippi Animal Control and Protection Association.

“Mississippi officers receive minimal training in animal cruelty issues at the state’s law enforcement academy,” Sullivan said. “That’s unfortunate, because we frequently see connections between those who commit animal cruelty and those who commit other crimes. The exceptions are animal hoarders, who are often charged with animal neglect, but they may not even have a traffic ticket on their records.”

Sullivan said animal cruelty can be classified as passive or active. Examples of passive cruelty include neglect, economic hardship, or failure to provide shelter or sustenance. Examples of active cruelty include animal fighting or torture.

“With animal cases, you have to look at intent. Sometimes the reason for passive cruelty is a lack of knowledge. In those cases, education may fix the problem. But when the reason is boredom, revenge or a need for power or control, as in active cruelty cases, it’s a different situation that requireslegal action.”

State laws make most cases of intentional animal cruelty misdemeanors or, in extreme cases, felonies.

“While anyone can charge someone with a violation of state laws, only actual witnesses may charge someone with misdemeanor crimes. The Mississippi Dog and Cat Pet Protection Law of 2011 gives a person immunity from civil and criminal liability for reporting an incident to officials unless it is a false reporting of a crime. Only sworn officers of the law acting in the scope of their duties are protected from accusations of malicious prosecution if the accused is found not guilty.”

Most neglect cases involve horses or dogs, and determining criminal neglect can be a challenge. Cooperative relationships between law enforcement officer and local veterinarians are critical.

David Christiansen, assistant clinical professor with MSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine, told participants to consider several factors when determining horse neglect. Some of those issues include untreated injuries, shelter, hoof care and body condition, which could vary based on the breed.

“Fortunately, we very rarely see cases of active abuse; most are cases of simple neglect,”saidChristiansen. “These often involve new owners who did not understand the horse’s needs. The horse may be pastured in a small area without adequate supplemental feed and water. People often don’t realize the work and expense required to maintain a horse once they acquire it.”

Sullivan and other speakers also addressed legal issues related to animal seizure, euthanization, liabilities, penalties, domestic violence, hoarding and puppy mills.

The course at MSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine was one of five taking place across the state in 2012. Other cities for the course include Brandon, Purvis, Batesville and Gautier.