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Criminalizing animal abuse circa 2014

The Face of a Feral
The Face of a Feral
Alley Cat Allies

For most of us, hearing about the purposeful mutilation and/or murder of one defenseless animal is enough to push our buttons to want to find the perpetrator and bring them to justice.

Here's the good news: On the whole, the US is getting better at criminalizing actions like these. According to a 2013 ALDF (Animal Legal Defense Fund) report, since they began their ranking system in 2006, there has been noticeable progress nationwide. Per the ALDF, the top 5 states in which to be an animal are Illinois, Oregon, Michigan, Maine and California.

Eight jurisdictions added - for the first time - felony penalties for cases involving extreme animal cruelty or torture: Alaska, Arkansas, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Mississippi, North Dakota and Utah.

Seven jurisdictions strengthened their existing felony animal cruelty laws: Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio and Puerto Rico.

Thirteen jurisdictions added felonies for repeated or aggravated animal neglect: Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut*, Hawaii*, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, New Jersey*, North Carolina, Oregon*, Puerto Rico and Tennessee.

Eight jurisdictions made repeated abandonment, or abandonment that results in the death or serious injury of an animal, a felony: Arkansas, Connecticut*, Idaho, Louisiana, Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska and Puerto Rico.

Three jurisdictions added felonies for the sexual assault of an animal: Alaska, Puerto Rico and Tennessee.

Bad news: The five worst are Wyoming, New Mexico, South Dakota, Iowa and absolute worst ranked is Kentucky, yes, that Blue-Grass Derby State. Only the Northern Mariana Islands and American Samoa rank lower. More bad news: Though it had the chance, this past week, Hawaii didn't flinch at NOT making it illegal to cook and eat dogs and cats:

SB2026 SD1 HD2 Establishes the offense of Cruelty to Animals by Slaughtering or Trafficking Dogs or Cats for Human Consumption. Includes dogs and cats bred for human consumption in the definition of "pet animal".

Unbelievably, that bill actually died in committee before reaching Governor Neil Abercrombie's desk. In case you're interested, Hawaii ranks near the bottom half ... #36 on the ALDF list.

In Lakeland Florida, the medical examiner determined that the cats found torn apart in the yards of local homeowners was been done by an animal. However, two other unsolved cases where multiple animals were horrifically abused recently hit the news.

In South Bend, IN, (#9 on the ALDF list) the spring thaw revealed the bodies of more than a dozen dead animals in an alley. Cats, rabbits, squirrels and other animals were found on a warm Sunday afternoon. Multiple cats were found in piles, some still wearing their collars. Dead squirrels were lined up near the strung-up body of a dead, gutted opossum. Neighbors found their missing cats at the terrible scene.

In NY (#42 on the ALDF list), about 25 dead cats were found in plastic bags hanging from trees in Yonkers. They had apparently been killed with blows to the head at various times over the past year. Necropsies revealed blunt trauma to their skulls. Some of the cats were skeletons; some had been dead only a few days. Under NY's Agriculture and Market's Law, the killer or killers COULD face felony charges of up to 2 years imprisonment, as well as a $5,000 fine, under NY Code. Notice I said COULD. Still more bad news - unfortunately, the justice that is handed down is never enough to fit the crime. Judges just don't take this seriously enough, even though it has been proven that animal abuse can lead to human abuse. There is also the emotional toll this takes on the family of the abused/murdered pet. Is there any fiscal punishment that will bring your pet back to life? Mark me as crazy, but any time I read about these inhumane criminals, and that's what they are, getting off with a slap on the wrist, I always want part of their sentence to be a permanent visible tattoo "I abuse animals"; and forewarned is forearmed.

Both cases make any normal person sick to their stomach. There are some animal welfare groups and citizens who are trying to bring the butchers in each case to justice. In the NY case, PETA, the SPCA, the ALDF, the Humane Society, Black Sabbath Bassist Terrence "Geezer" Butler and Alley Cat Allies are chipping in for the reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the killer. That reward now stands $25,000. Anyone with any information is asked to contact the SPCA of Westchester's confidential hotline at 914-941-7797. Alley Cat Allies (ACA) is also offering a reward of $1500 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the IN animal killer. Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Stoppers at (574) 288-STOP.

ACA is deadly serious about criminalizing activities like these. I had a chance to speak with Ms. Liz Holtz, their Staff Attorney. She's been with ACA for 2 1/2 years. I asked her if offering rewards is a useful incentive to catching the perpetrators. Ms. Holtz told me "rewards are useful to encourage people to provide information they think someone else has already provided. Much of the information they receive on cases usually comes from someone close to the informant."

Rewards like these come from the group's General Fund. Ms. Holz informed me that "killing cats is illegal in all 50 states. Un-owned dogs and cats ARE protected by cruelty laws," although she has learned that, sadly, "some Animal Control Officers don't think this so". I'm really not surprised, when I hear the stories of multiple animals killed by heartstick using the same dirty needle, injected by an untrained hand. Or thrown by the dozens into a bin to be gassed to death. Or dragged by it's legs or head down a hall by a rope and then shot and thrown in a corner to bleed to death. Sorry if I've offended anyone's sensibilities. But animal cruelty happens every day, in shelters across the country. There are many good shelters, and many hell-holes. Some of these tombs of the hopeless, but not enough, are being brought to light.

ACA has a campaign coordinator flying up to NY to build "boots on the ground" awareness of proactive feral feline spay/neuter programs like Trap-Neuter-Return. The coordinator is part of the ACA Feral Friends Network - a group of people across the country and around the world who are actively protecting and improving the lives of cats. If you would like to learn more about their organization, contact http://www.alleycat.org/feralfriends.