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Animal Cruelty Laws in Virginia

A North Carolina man allegedly shot and killed a horse while the man was on a crime spree in Virginia. In October 2013, Chesterfield police issued an arrest warrant for 20-year-old Steven Dunn of Greensboro, North Carolina. Mr. Dunn and some companions allegedly broke into houses in a Chesterfield neighborhood, broke into cars in a parking lot, took a 9mm pistol from one of the cars and shot the horse in the head. Mr. Dunn was initially charged with one count of maiming or killing livestock, one count of recklessly handling a firearm, six counts of grand larceny, one count of petit larceny and one count of conspiracy to commit grand larceny. The horse, 12-year-old Legend, was buried on the farm and a marker was erected in his memory. 

It is difficult to assess the proper punishment for killing a horse, dog, cat or some other animal that is either kept as a family pet or is in some way an important member of the family. Hampton criminal defense attorneys understand that the loss of such an animal is a personal loss, although in no way as severe a loss as a person. 

Virginia law deals with this problem by making the first offense a relatively minor offense and significantly upgrading the penalties for a second or serious offense. Cruelty laws involve: 

  • Cruelty: Cruel treatment can be indirect, such as neglect and a failure to obtain medical treatment. Cruel treatment can also mean abuse or even forcing animals to fight. Cruelty is generally punishable by up to 12 months in jail.
  • Subsequent offense or killing an animal: If the offense is not a first offense, or if the offender caused the death of an animal, that person may be sentenced to up to five years in prison. 

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