Most animal torture reports don't lead to criminal investigations

Members of NATO Battlegroup Estonia helped the nonprofit Narva Cat Room move to its new location across town on Thursday. June 6, 2019. (Picture is illustrative)
Members of NATO Battlegroup Estonia helped the nonprofit Narva Cat Room move to its new location across town on Thursday. June 6, 2019. (Picture is illustrative) Source: Aili Vahtla/ERR

Most allegations of animal torture made to the police are either not prosecuted or the cases get closed. Animal rights activists are calling for a solution, as they are arguing that cases of animal torture do not lead to a substantive discussion.

A recent act where a man attempted to drowned a cat in Haapsalu, Lääne County, finally finishing the animal off with a hammer did not constitute a crime, so far as the police were concerned, which was the last straw for one animal protection association. According to the animal defenders, all maltreatment that is reported can still go without a procedure, prompting them to issue an appeal to state authorities,

Piret Tees, lawyer at the Estonian Animal Protection Association, said: "There are many several cases like this and I cannot seem to find any more solutions. There have been cases of cat stranglings, throwing animals against the wall and the starvation of dogs. The police just do not care about it. If they have initiated investigations, they will just wind up the cases without hesitation. We have reached a point where I think the procedure will be initiated in one percent of the cases."

According to the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA), 28 criminal proceedings and 4 misdemeanor proceedings have been initiated this year regarding animal abuse. The PPA initiated misdemeanor proceedings against the man in the Haapsalu incident, but this did not end with a criminal case.

An individual reportedly named Sulev, who beat his cat in the south Estonian town of Viljandi a few months ago, and then proceeded to throw him out of the window, also evaded criminal proceedings. He was also reported on social media platforms, however.

Andres Kirsing, the leading criminal officer at the PPA, explained: "It was established that there was no use of the cruel and torturous practice. In addition to that, the act did not happen in a public place. A crime is committed when it happens in a public place or in a particularly cruel way. The interpretation of the facts is also based on the case law, where it is explained exactly where lies the beginning of violent acts and what is an unacceptable act."

Cases of ill-treatment of animals which have reached the courts in Estonia can be counted on the fingers of one hand, which is why the point at which a cruel way of action begins is mainly a matter of assessment.

Kristel Toming, Senior Prosecutor of the Northern District Prosecutor's Office, said: "There are indeed only a small amount of case law. There is no definition of what a 'cruel way' exactly means. It is a matter of assessment. It mainly depends on the circumstances of the act, such as how violent, cruel and brutal it was. Unfortunately, we cannot say that animal torture is a crime as such."

Only a victim can challenge the non-initiation or termination of criminal proceedings. In the case of animal abuse, this can only be done by the owner of the animal, who in many cases are themselves the culprits, or the animal has no owner at all.

The Animal Protection Association proposed in 2016 to the Ministry of Justice that they get the right to appeal in cases where proceedings had not been initiated. This proposal or change in the law did not pass.

Tees added: "We have tried to get the issue or change passed for several years now. If we even get this right of appeal passed, it would only solve a quarter of the problem. The fact that we are now putting these complaints on the table and these matters will be discussed with the higher authorities is a bit uneven. The law needs to be made clearer and the officials should explain what 'cruel' actually means."


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Editor: Katriin Eikin Sein

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