Thursday, January 15, 2009

Animal cruelty a problem- AR

During tough economic times pets often suffer-

When money gets tight, taking care of pets is usually among the first things families cut back on. However, animal cruelty is against the law, and if a bill filed Wednesday with the Arkansas State Legislature is passed, it could become a class D felony on the first offense.

According the Associated Press, Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said he expects lawmakers to quickly pass the animal cruelty bill because it has the backing of 20 senators and 38 representatives.

The current law defines cruelty to animals as when a person “knowingly abandons any animal, subjects it to cruel mistreatment or cruel neglect, or kills or injures an animal without the owner’s consent.” Currently, animal cruelty is a class A misdemeanor and punishable with a fine up to $1,000 and/or one year in prison, cost of care for the animal and counseling. Exemptions are made for hunting and protection of livestock.

If the new bill passes, it will make cruelty to animals a class D felony and punishable with a fine up to $10,000 and/or six years in prison. The bill also includes a five-year sentencing enhancement for anyone convicted of torturing an animal in the presence of a child. The bill also has stricter definitions of cruelty and would also make cockfighting a felony.

Paragould animal control officer Tim Myatt said there were three cases of animal cruelty in Paragould prosecuted last year. He said most cases he sees are cases of abandonment or neglect.

“If they don’t have any shelter, water or food (that constitutes cruelty),” Myatt said. “If they’re poorly looking where you can count their ribs and basically left to starve to death, (that is also cruelty).”

Myatt said when a person is reported for being cruel to animals, he will check the animal. If he determines it has been mistreated, Myatt said he calls the police department, which will then issue a citation to the owner.

“They’ll have to build the case off the ticket. Not off my work,” he said.

The animal is then taken to a veterinarian, who makes an assessment of the animal’s health, Myatt said. He said the most common disease animals have is Parvo. Parvo is a highly contagious virus among dogs which attacks the lining of the digestive system and causes diarrhea and could lead to death.

When an abandoned dog is taken to the pound and nobody claims them, Myatt said the dogs have to be euthanized. He said he usually has to euthanize eight to 10 dogs per week. Myatt said among the dogs who get euthanized, two are sick and would’ve had to be euthanized regardless.

“The rest of them are healthy, just nobody wants to claim them,” he said. “It’s kind of weird, out of the many people who live in Paragould, nobody wants to come claim their dog.”

Myatt said the new law would make it more mandatory for people to keep their dogs in a kennel or a fenced yard.

“You won’t be able to have a dog on a chain ever again,” he said. “So many dogs have chains dig into their necks and causing problems.”

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