Alaska Strengthens Penalties for Animal Cruelty

Girl with petAlaska is no longer one of the states where animal cruelty is not a felony under any circumstances.

Until now it was no more than a Class A misdemeanor to abuse an animal in Alaska no matter the intent of the perpetrator or the extent of the abuse. Alaska Stat. §11.61.140. The most punishment anyone could face on a charge of animal cruelty is a $5,000 fine and 1 year in jail. Alaska Stat. §12.55.015

Now, a third offense of animal cruelty within 10 years is a Class C felony punishable basically by up to 5 years in prison and a $50,000 fine. Alaska Stat. §§12.55.125,12.55.035 Also, animal abuse is a Class C felony if the abuser has 2 prior convictions within 10 years for involvement with dog fighting. Alaska Stat. §11.61.145(a)(1),(2) 

On the last day of the legislative session, the Alaska legislature passed these changes as part of a bill, H.B. 307, which also amended the laws relating to domestic violence.

Originally, the bill introduced by Sen. Bill Weilechowski, would have made it a felony on the first offense to "knowingly inflict severe and prolonged physical pain or suffering on an animal" or intentionally poison a pet or livestock. This version passed the Senate and the House Judiciary Committee.

But time ran out. On the last day of the legislative session, to get a felony penalty added to the animal cruelty laws, proponents had to combine it with another bill so it would be voted on in time.

As Dale Bartlett, lobbyist for the Humane Society of the United States, explains, "With time running out in the session and nowhere else to turn, Sen. Weilechowski’s felony cruelty language was amended into a bill to make a third domestic violence offense a felony, and the animal cruelty felony was dropped to third offense to match the bill’s other provisions. "

Under current law the court can also require forfeiture of the animals to the state or someone who can care for them. An abuser can also be ordered to reimburse the state or a custodian for all reasonable costs incurred in providing necessary care, for the animals. An Alaska court can also prohibit or limit the abuser’s ownership or possession of animals for up to 10 years. Alaska Stat. §11.61.140

The new bill also makes it a crime in most instances in Alaska to "knowingly kill" or "injure" an animal "with the intent to intimidate, threaten, or terrorize another person".  It is well-established in domestic violence situations, the abuser will many times threaten or abuse animals to control and threaten the victim spouse or children.  

In one study 71% of women in a battered women’s shelter reported their abuser either abused a household pet or threatened to abuse a pet. (Ascione, 1998)  In another study 88% of child abusers also abused the animals in the home. (Ascione)  In a study by Dr. Jacquelyn Campbell, Public Health Department, the Johns Hopkins University from 1994 to 2000 in eleven USA metropolitan cities, pet abuse was one of the four significant predictors for determining who was at highest risk for becoming a batterer. Many abused spouses delay leaving out of fear for their pets’ safety and because they have nowhere to take them.

For a copy of the final bill as passed by the legislature, click here. The bill will now be sent to Governor Sarah Palin for signature.


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