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Understanding Iowa's laws on the mistreatment of animals

New rules passed just last year help define what mistreatment means and how it's addressed.

DES MOINES, Iowa — The video, for many, was shocking.  Images of a dog named "Echo" whose owner had been caught on tape dragging the dog by the collar, throwing things at him, and kicking him.

It took nearly a week for the owner to eventually agree to give the dog back to the breeder.

To understand the process, we need to take step and consider two things.

"One, did this person commit a crime under the definition under law? And two, what do we do with the animal?", said Colin Grace, the director of legal and legislative services for the Animal Rescue League of Iowa.

So, first, what kind of crimes are we talking about?

"There's three available charges: neglect, abuse, and torture," said Grace.

The laws dealing with the mistreatment of animals are just about a year old.  And that can pose some challenges, according to legal experts.

"I would argue there probably is some ambiguity in there. And part of that reason is that Iowa's law just changed last year, and so it hasn't really been tested too much under this new series of definitions and regulations that we have when it comes to animal cruelty and neglect and abuse," said Jennifer Zwagerman, director of the Drake Agricultural Law Center.

She also says that how local authorities proceed when they get reports that might violate these laws can vary.

"Particularly, different jurisdictions in different cities and different towns are all going to have different resources available to them," said Zwagerman.

Grace said there's also process to deal with an animal who might be the victim of a crime. 

"That is the disposition process. That's a civil hearing.  And you file that. And the court is asking basically the same question: was this animal abused, neglected or tortured?  And if so, the court has the authority to then take the animal out of that home and place it somewhere else where the animals welfare will be provided," said Grace.

That hearing can take up to 10 days to happen, according the Iowa code addressing dispositional proceedings.

As far as an eventual resolution, it's not always what the public wants or expects.

"Often times the resolution doesn't look like charges being filed, or legal proceedings being initiated," said Grace.

Zwagerman says the investigation may reveal details not apparent on the surface.

"That's why you want somebody to do the investigation before we see animals taken away or or things along those lines, so that we make sure that is the need that's really the best interest for the animal, as well as as for those involved," she said.

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