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Animal lovers in Oregon can celebrate since a state court of appeals ruled that animals are more than just property. They can also be considered the victim of a crime, according to Wednesday's ruling.
The ruling arose from a particularly heinous case of animal abuse by Arnold Weldon Nix. Officers investigated his farm in 2010 and found many emaciated horses and goats along with several dead animals.
The case is making headlines not because Nix was found guilty of animal abuse but because the ruling marks a change in how the law treats animals.
Generally animals are considered property in legal disputes. Abuse of someone else's animal is considered damage to their property.
Even in divorce cases and when dividing an estate, animals are considered one of the pieces of property that have to be given out to the parties.
Nix was convicted of 20 counts of animal abuse but the judge in the case merged them into one conviction. That was wrong, ruled the court.
The ruling by the Oregon Court of Appeals says the law protects individual animals from abuse so each one can be considered a victim. Because each count represents a victim of abuse, the counts should not have been merged, reports The Corvallis Gazette Times.
Nix should have been sentenced on all 20 counts of abuse.
The case will now be remanded to the lower court which will delay Nix's sentencing. After the conviction is amended, a court will determine how long Nix could serve in prison.
This doesn't mean animals will never be considered property under Oregon law.
People still legally own pets which makes it necessary to talk about property when something affects someone else's animal. What this case does is make it possible to fully prosecute someone for abuse against their own pets.