State must sharpen the teeth of Dog and Cat Protection Act

Published 7:00 am Friday, September 30, 2016

couple of years ago, I was approached by Pearl River County law enforcement regarding the Mississippi Dog and Cat Protection Act after the Australian cattle dog case occurred locally.

This abuse/neglect case was featured on the television series “Pit Bulls and Parolees.” Deputy Joe Quave from the Pearl River County Sheriff’s Department accompanied me to Jackson to meet with the agriculture chairman and the president of Mississippi Farm Bureau to show them pictures from the case and discuss the need to strengthen this code from a law enforcement officer’s perspective.

The officer explained that if the crime occurs where stronger city ordinances are not established, the current state law allows for only one count of either simple or aggravated cruelty is pressed, no matter how many dogs or cats are involved.

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This is not a strong enough deterrent, since owners of puppy mills can pay the fine, move a few miles and set back up. The bill I filed, SB 2174, which has been shuffled from committee to committee, capped the counts at 10. Numerous dog and cat abuse cases in media outlets across the state seem to be increasing in frequency.

Wiggins Police Chief Matt Barnett took the floor in the Judiciary A committee a year ago to discuss this same flaw in the law, but the stronger bill never went for a vote, and subsequently moved to the Agriculture Committee where no public discussion was considered by the chairman this year.

The second revision needed in the current law is to make heinous torture (aggravated cruelty) of a dog or cat a first instead of second offense felony. These offenses include immolation, suffocation, dismemberment and drowning.

Ample evidence exists that states social deviants who torture domestic animals are also a danger to people. A background check for a day care, nursing home, or school job application would catch this early if the first offense were a felony. The Luke Woodham shooting at Pearl High School and stabbing of his mother is an example. Woodham left what prosecutors described as a manifesto describing the gruesome torture of his dog Sparkle.

The third revision needed in this bill is to require reporting four categories of animal abuse into the FBI national crime database. Back in January 2016, the FBI indicated that all law enforcement in the U.S. should create a uniform report to submit these crimes to their national database. The National Sheriff’s Association was a strong supporter of this requirement. Because my bill failed to be considered, Mississippi is not in compliance with what the FBI requested.

Elected supervisors, local and statewide rescue organizations, realtors, parole officers, veterinarians, and numerous city and county law enforcement officers have spoken with me regarding the need for stronger dog and cat abuse/neglect laws in addition to a clearer definition of shelter for the dog or cat.

I recently became aware of a need to include pets in protective orders in domestic violence cases because victims often stay in abusive situations because they fear their pets will be harmed if they leave.

Twenty-four states have passed statutes to include pets in domestic violence protection orders.

The strongest point I want to make is that Mississippi’s current statute excludes farm animals and is specifically written about dogs and cats. It has no impact at all on current farming or processing practices. I have worked alongside farmers on numerous issues during my term. I would never write a bill to impede farming. Farm animals are covered under a different section of the law. It is already a first offense felony to harm livestock in any way with no capping of the counts.

I appreciate the attention the Picayune Item has given to this issue through numerous articles written and published over the last few years.

By Angela Hill

State senator representing District 40.