Two state supreme court rulings on animal abuse make for harsher penalties, more action

      EUGENE, Ore. -- Two recent Oregon Supreme Court decisions are expanding animal rights. In one case, Judges ruled that animals could be considered victims. That could make for longer sentences for those who neglect or abuse their pets.

      They also ruled in favor of a Douglas County Animal Control Deputy, who took a malnourished horse from a house before getting a search warrant.

      Deputy Lee Bartholomew decided the starving mare, named Grace, might not survive long enough for him to obtain the warrant.

      Darla Clark helped to nurse the animal back to health, and remembers the first time she saw grace.

      "Grace was the most sad, visually sad case and the worst physical shape of anything we've ever seen," said Clark.

      Grace's owners, Linda Fessenden and Teresa Dicke, argued in court that the horse was a piece of property, adding that Deputy Bartholomew should have gotten a search warrant.

      The Oregon Supreme Court ruled in favor of Deputy Bartholomew's actions, calling the horse's condition exigent circumstances, meaning she was in dire need of care.

      Clark says that with enough food, plenty of love, and grace's sassy attitude, the animal was nursed back to health.

      "You cannot break the law in your front yard - in front of anybody passing by - and think that you have the right to break the law just because you're on your own property. You can't do something so blatant and expect to get away with it," said Clark.

      In the case the state versus Arnold Nix, Supreme Court justices decided that a man convicted of starving 20 animals could be sentenced to 20 different counts of animal neglect. The ruling meant each animal counted as a separate victim, which set a precedent for harsher penalties for those who mistreat animals.

      Those who deal with animal neglect and abuse cases say they hope the rulings will make people think twice before hurting an animal.