Animal cruelty laws in Mississippi

Published 7:00 am Saturday, November 19, 2016

Current Mississippi laws allow for what some are calling “lenient sentences” for animal cruelty violations.
In the last legislative session, State Senator Angel Hill drafted SB 2174 to increase penalties against offenders convicted of simple and aggravated cruelty against dogs and cats. The bill died in the Agriculture Judiciary committee.
Hill said the bill was inaccurately described by opponents—like the Mississippi Farm Bureau—as extreme animal rights legislation that would have a significant impact on livestock and farming.
“The notion that this has any affect on livestock or farming is an extreme stretch,” Hill said. “All [the bill] does is put us in compliance with how the FBI wants animal cruelty reported.”
She said the FBI created a nationwide system for law enforcement agencies to report animal cruelty convictions.
Under the current state law, Mississippi law enforcement agencies do not report animal abuse cases to the FBI, Hill said.
The system was created due to the correlation between animal abuse and other violent crimes, Hill said.
Her amendment to the Mississippi Dog and Cat Pet Protection Law of 2011 change the current law so suspects could be charged with up to ten counts of simple or aggravated cruelty, even if the alleged acts occurred at the same time.
According to current law, (Miss. Code Ann. 97-41-16), a person found guilty of committing simple or aggravated cruelty against a dog or cat can only be charged with a single offense—no matter the number of dogs or cats involved—if the alleged acts occurred at the same time.
The fines for those convicted of such a crime is $1,000 maximum for the misdemeanor charge of simple cruelty to a dog or cat, or $2,500 maximum for the misdemeanor charge of aggravated cruelty to a dog or cat.
Under the current statute, the charge becomes a felony when a person is convicted of a second, or subsequent, offense of aggravated cruelty within five years. The fine is then increased to up to $5,000 and up to five years imprisonment.
Advocates of Hill’s bill said offenders should be charged for each animal, not for each case.
“If they were charged for each animal and made it a felony count the first time, I think they would think twice about abusing animals,” Pearl River County SPCA spokeswoman Maria Diamond said. “Unless you can prove cruelty, there’s not much you can do about it.”
Diamond said abuse cases typically stem from the way people were raised to treat animals.
“I think a lot of people were raised to look at animals as just property and to be discarded, like an old chair,” she said. “I just don’t think they were taught to treat animals well.”
Hill said she was approached by local law enforcement agencies and the Pearl River County Board of Supervisors to draft the bill because of numerous complaints from the public.
“They have to tell people they can’t do anything because state law is tying their hands. Well, I’m trying to untie their hands,” Hill said.

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About Julia Arenstam

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