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Harsher penalties passed to deter animal abusers

Published 1:52pm Thursday, May 30, 2013

By Ashley Vice, Staff Writer

Animal abusers will soon face steeper penalties and a possible felony charge under new state animal cruelty laws.

House Bill 27, sponsored by Rep. Joe Faust, R-Fairhope, increases the maximum penalty for misdemeanor cruelty charges from six months to one year in prison.

The bill also defines the crime “aggravated cruelty to animals” as a class C felony carrying a maximum 10-year prison sentence or a minimum 10-year sentence if a firearm or deadly weapon is involved.

Aggravated cruelty to animals will be defined as any violation of the animal cruelty law where the act of cruelty or neglect involves the infliction of torture to the animal. Torture is defined, by the bill, as “the act of doing physical injury to an animal by the infliction of inhumane treatment or gross physical abuse meant to cause the animal intensive or prolonged pain or serious physical injury, or by causing the death of the animal.”

Dadeville Police Chief David Barbour said animal cruelty isn’t a common crime in Dadeville, but is still one he and his department take seriously.

“I’m an animal lover. Everybody who has a pet needs to take care of it,” he said. “I believe there needed to be stricter laws on it. So I welcome anything that’s more strict.”

Barbour said of the four cases seen in Dadeville last year one was able to be solved without prosecution, and officers filed arrest warrants under state law on the other three.

Tallapoosa County Sheriff Jimmy Abbett said he believes the new penalties will help cut down on animal cruelty.

“Absolutely I believe it’s a deterrent,” he said, adding that the increased jail time gives officers more bite behind their bark.

Lake Martin Humane Society director Mia Chandler said the laws will benefit animal shelters in the long run by deterring owners from abusing and neglecting their pets.

In the short term, however, Chandler said the new law could cause an increase in pets in need of homes.

“We typically have an influx of pets when there is a change in a law,” she said. In the long run she said the new laws probably won’t cause “huge change” in the medical expenses and treatment costs for abandoned or abused animals, but she said the bill still represents progress.

“Simply taking steps toward improving the welfare of animals is worth celebrating,” Chandler said. “So many animals suffer or die with little or no prosecution to the owner or individual involved.

“We hope there will be justice for those that cannot speak for themselves.”