Animal Crimes and Punishment
Many times when Newswatch 16 covers a story about animal cruelty you, our viewers, speak out about the punishments the convicted animal abusers should receive.
As we followed an SPCA Humane Officer for a day, she says for some cases you’re right. The punishments should be a bit tougher.
We’ve seen the images of dogs and cats abused and neglected. Many are injured with wounds, broken bones and frightened. And for others, it’s unfortunately too late.
After we air these stories, our viewers speak up.
“I have a great idea for that guy who duct-taped that dog. I say tar and feather that man the way they used to to the bootleggers back in the early 40s, late 30s,” said one viewer.
“So the clown that threw the pit bull off the cliff only got house arrest and can’t keep dogs. Well, what they should do is take him out and throw him off a cliff and not let him keep dogs for the rest of his life,” said another viewer.
“I have a comment about that poor emaciated black dog you showed on the 11 o’clock news. How could that owner get just an $800 fine and five days in jail? That little dog will never be the same”, said a viewer.
Elizabeth Anderson is the SPCA Humane Officer of Monroe County. For many animals, she’s likely considered “Saint Elizabeth”, because she’s the person who investigates animal abuse, rescues the animals and prosecutes the offenders.
“I got into humane law 19 years ago for that reason, because I wanted the system to take these cases seriously. I didn’t want a judge to say, ‘it’s just a dog’,” said Anderson.
We followed Officer Anderson for a day to see how she investigates alleged animal crimes. Some calls she goes on, no one is home and she posts a notice on the door, like one allegation that a dog was living in a basement surrounded by feces in East Stroudsburg. The letter is letting the people know she’ll be coming back.
In other cases, like a suspected case of a man not being able to afford to get veterinary care to his dogs, Officer Anderson found a man with 13 puppies. He later agreed to surrender the pups to the SPCA.
Then there are other cases, like a case in Northumberland County where the owners of a pit bull admitted to throwing the sick dog over an embankment and leaving it for dead. The dog survived but is blind and doesn’t hear well. The owners pleaded guilty and were sentenced to fines and two years of probation – during which time they can’t own an animal.
One of the owners is sentenced to 90 days house arrest.
Officer Anderson believes in some cases, the punishments convicted animal abusers receive here in Pennsylvania should be tougher.
“I think there should be more of a willingness to order incarceration,” said Anderson.
Officer Anderson says right now, if a person is convicted of abusing or neglecting an animal, they are fined up to $750 per summary offense and 90 days in jail.
If a person kills an animal, it’s a misdemeanor offense that carries up to two years jail time. Officer Anderson wants that punishment to be up to five years.
She’d also like to see the animal never to go back to the care of the convicted abuser.
In some circumstances, that happens. So when it does, Officer Anderson says she would like the court to grant humane officers more permission to make sure the animal stays protected.
“If you’re going to put that animal back in the same situation – over my objection – at least give me the right to inspect, the right to monitor, to do many of the same things you might see in a human child abuse case,” said Officer Anderson.
Officer Anderson says sometimes a judge has denied her request to inspect the home because it wasn’t specifically stated in the crimes code for cruelty to animals.
Officer Anderson would like to see inspections become mandatory.
“Unless we opt out for some particular reason, I think it should be normal standard operating procedure,” said Officer Anderson.
Officer Anderson says if the humane officer finds that abuse is continuing, the convicted abuser should no longer have the right to own an animal. Something that doesn’t always happen, but she believes should.
“If you don’t want to see this episode happen again, take away the ability to make it happen again,” said Officer Anderson.
Officer Anderson says her suggestions are only a start. The judges who impose a sentence must follow guidelines according to the law.
Those guidelines – and the law – can be changed by state legislators who need to hear from you.
You can contact your local legislators by clicking here.
You can also give support to current bills to protect animals in Pennsylvania by clicking here.