Tougher abuse legislation faces uphill battle

Published 7:00 am Thursday, December 3, 2015

Jesse Wright | Picayune Item yo quiero amor: Noelle the Chihuahua was found Wednesday morning in a PRCSPCA’s can trailer.

Jesse Wright | Picayune Item
yo quiero amor: Noelle the Chihuahua was found Wednesday morning in a PRCSPCA’s can trailer.

Among the bills state Sen. Angela Hill said she would like to get passed next year is tougher animal cruelty legislation.

Specifically, Hill said she would like to see tougher penalties for puppy mill breeders—breeders who do not properly and humanely care for their animals—and for people who heinously abuse a pet. 

As it stands now, someone may torture a dog or a cat and then face no more than a misdemeanor charge and pay a fine if convicted. 

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Hill said there was one instance of a man setting fire to a dog, and he paid a $325 fine.

Asked how big of a problem animal abuse is in Pearl River County, and Rhonda Furby said, “Huge. It’s a huge problem.”

Furby is the Pearl River County SPCA director of community outreach, and she could point to an example from Wednesday morning.

“This one there,” she said, pointing at a Chihuahua, “she was found in the can trailer this morning.” 

The can trailer is the trailer where the shelter collects aluminum cans. The dog is four, and her ribs were showing, though Furby said she’d had a good diet of pizza crusts since she’d come in Wednesday.

Another dog, Furby said, someone tossed over the PRCSPCA fence one night.

“One was thrown over the fence,” Furby said. “She was a nice-sized dog so were not sure how they managed that.”

The dog was an 8-month old Catahoula mix, and she was left at the shelter because her former owners, who had kept her for two months, decided they couldn’t keep her. Furby knows the dog’s history because the owners taped all the adoption paperwork on the door of the PRCSPCA office. 

It’s not just a Pearl River County problem. Less than two weeks ago, WAPT news reported that two live puppies were discovered inside a glass fish tank that had been cemented shut and thrown into a creek. The puppies were spotted and rescued, but if the people who committed the crime were found, the most they would face is a fine. 

Hill said the law should be stronger.

“That should be a first offense felony with mandatory psychological counseling,” she said. 

And it’s not only Hill and the animal advocacy people who believe in strengthening the law. 

In December 2014, a Pearl River County couple was found guilty of two counts of animal cruelty and ordered to pay two fines totaling $736 though they had allegedly abused more than 60 dogs. Nevertheless, because of the weak state laws, the judicial system was limited in what action it could take.

“I’m glad that the case is over and they’ve paid their punishment and justice has been served for what they were doing to the animals. The animal cruelty laws are outdated and need to be harsher,” Sheriff David Allison said of the couple’s case in October of this year.

Yet, despite the calls for reform, Hill said she doubts the laws will change. 

“I don’t think it’s very likely,” she said. 

Maria Diamond, the president of the local SPCA, said there’s one big roadblock to reform in Mississippi.

“The Farm Bureau is fighting it,” she said. 

The Bureau is a lobbying organization for farmers and ranchers, and Diamond said they’re concerned that animal welfare laws that apply to pets could be used to restrict farming. 

Hill said the animal cruelty legislation she favors would have nothing to do with farm animals and farming. In fact, she said, she is in favor of farmers, farming and even the Bureau itself.

“The Farm Bureau is my friend. I in no way intend to vilify them on this,” she said.

But Hill said it’s time for the laws to toughen up, and she thinks even most farmers will agree.

“I have hundreds of Farm Bureau members in both my counties, and I don’t think that the rank and file members believe this stuff,” she said. “But that’s basically it, that Farm Bureau is opposed to it. And I think it will be nothing short of a miracle if we get this stuff strengthened.”

The legislative session doesn’t start until January. In the meantime, Diamond suggests anyone who wishes to make their views known to the Farm Bureau call the president of the organization, Mike McCormick, at his office and leave a message. 

His number is 601-957-3200.