Sunday, February 14, 2010

Animal cruelty bill gets mixed feeling

by Emily Le Coz and Danza Johnson

An attempt to make animal cruelty a felony in Mississippi has won the support of those closest to its helpless victims.

But not all animal lovers agree.

Senate Bill 2623 passed the full Senate in a 47-1 vote last week. If it becomes law, it’d make it a felony to maliciously “torture, mutilate, maim, burn, starve, disfigure or kill any domesticated dog or cat.” And it’d be punishable by a $10,000 fine and up to five years in prison.

Mississippi is one of only four states without a felony animal-cruelty law, according to the Humane Society of the United States. Idaho, North Dakota and South Dakota are the others.

Offenders now face misdemeanor charges that carry a maximum $1,000 fine and six months in jail.

The problem with weaker laws, said Tupelo-Lee Humane Society Director Debbie Hood, is that animal advocates and law-enforcement officials have little means to punish offenders. And Hood said she gets five to 10 abuse reports daily, some of which deal with multiple animals.

“Why even bother to prosecute if they’re not going to be punished for a crime? I think that’s what’s wrong with Mississippi,” Hood said. “These puppy mill breeders, there’s nothing we can do. In Mississippi, they would get a $50 fine, and they would have been told, ‘You can’t do that.’”..."