Two weeks ago, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed “Patrick’s Law,” strengthening his state’s animal cruelty laws. The legislation was named after a pit bull who had been starved and tossed down a laundry chute (but, miraculously, lived to bark about it).
The dog’s previous owner plead guilty to animal cruelty and will be sentenced on August 29, but, because she has no prior conviction, is unlikely to serve any jail time.
Because apparently in New Jersey you have to starve and abandon more than one dog for it to count.
The new law is designed to change that. Under the new provisions laid out in “Patrick’s Law,” failure to provide an animal with adequate food and water – kind of a bare minimum for people who voluntarily commit to the care of a pet – can result in a maximum two-year sentence. First time offenders are still eligible for probation. If the animal dies as a result, that’s bumped up to a 3-5 year sentence. The Garden State also imposed stiff animal abuse fines: $3,000 for the first offense and $5,000 for a second.
It’s an important law.
Alaska has existing animal cruelty laws which would best serve us if strengthened.
Take for instance a recent event that played out in Fairbanks:
A veterinarian has confirmed that a horse stabled at the Tanana Valley State Fair in Fairbanks was injured over the weekend. Alaska State Troopers say the horse was sexually abused.
The horse molester is still at large, and troopers are still asking for any information.
State statutes detail what constitutes animal cruelty, defining it as any instance where a person “knowingly inflicts severe and prolonged physical pain or suffering on an animal,” or if they engage in criminal negligence leading to the death or suffering of the animal. Citizens cannot poison their pets or kill them in a decompression chamber (I do not want to know what inspired that specific provision). We also can’t injure or kill a dog with the “intent to intimidate, threaten, or terrorize another person.”
In 2010, three Democrats and three Republicans got together in Juneau, crafted, and passed HB6, expanding the definition of animal cruelty to include sexual abuse, tagging first offenders of animal cruelty offenses with minor level felony charges that come with (maximum) five year jail sentence.
In unfortunate foreshadowing of what would happen this summer in Fairbanks, bill sponsor Rep. Bob Lynn’s staffer brought up an uncomfortable issue:
[T]he Gastineau Humane Society (GHS) – the entity responsible for enforcing the animal cruelty laws in Juneau – gets reports from all over Southeast Alaska about someone having sex with an animal, but is at a loss with regard to what to charge perpetrators with when the animal hasn’t been killed or seriously injured….
(Those must have been some uplifting legislative informational packets.)
When the 26th Legislature passed HB6, Alaska became the 43rd state to adopt the first-offense law, but the penalties for that brand-new first offense do little, compared to the severity of the crime.
Hopefully, troopers catch up to the Tanana Valley State Fair horse molester. But what if he has no prior convictions? Under current law, he would face a maximum of one year jail time. First offenders only face class A misdemeanor charges, defined as involving “less severe violence against a person, less serious offenses against property interests, less serious offenses against public administration or order, or less serious offenses against public health and decency than felonies.”
What makes the second time someone defiles a horse different than the first? Or the second time someone “causes the death of the animal or causes severe physical pain or prolonged suffering to the animal?”
It’s not until the second conviction that an identical crime becomes a class C felony. The second offense comes with a two-to-four year sentence, and three-to-five for the third time.
By comparison, the first-time sentence for sexual assault of the non-animal variety is anywhere between 20 and 35 years. By the third offense, those guilty of sex crimes face lifetime charges. Which is good, because rape is really, really bad.
Shouldn’t sexual abuse of an animal fall under those same sentencing guidelines? Sexual assault with an animal is still sexual assault, isn’t it? I don’t really need to create a hierarchical system with sexual violence according to biological classification – it’s all unacceptable.
Under current law in Alaska, minimum standards of care for animals include “food and water sufficient to maintain each animal in good health; an environment compatible with protecting and maintaining the health and safety of the animal; and reasonable medical care at times and to the extent available and necessary to maintain the animal in good health.”
Last year, Willow resident Frank Rich was arrested after getting caught hoarding over 168 abused dogs. The animals were “emaciated, and many had parasites, cancer and wounds.” 19 were dead. 20 more would be euthanized. The veterinarian who testified against Rich in court said: “They are not supposed to be eating themselves from the inside out,”
He got six months and probation.
In his case, the lives of the dogs he allowed to die were worth about four-and-a-half days each.
One doesn’t generally slip and fall into abusing an animal. If you choose to care for a pet, you shouldn’t be afforded a generous learning curve for when you forget to not abuse your pet. Every year we hear more cases of animal hoarding and, unbelievably, animal raping. We should start cracking down on the legal leniency that sanctions the crime.