Update Feb. 4, 2009: Governor Mike Beebe has signedÂ into law a bill making aggravated cruelty to a dog, cat or horse a Class D felony on the first offense.
Until now animal cruelty was not a felony in Arkansas no matter the circumstances.
There are broad exemptions, however, for "agricultural activities" and hunting dogs.Â North Pennsylvania Puppy Mill Watch,Â www.NMPPWatch.com, has raised the question about whether these exemptions mean puppy millersÂ can’t be prosecuted.Â
For more on the bill, championed rapidly through this legislative session by state Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, read ALC’s earlier report below.Â
Update Jan. 30, 2009: This bill, S.B. 77 has now also passed the Arkansas House by a vote of 88-9.
Update Jan. 23, 2009: This bill is moving fast through the Arkansas legislature.Â The Senate has nowÂ passed it 34-0!Â
The bill moves to the House.
Update Jan. 21, 2009: Today, the Arkansas Senate Judiciary Committee approved S.B. 77 on a voice vote.Â
Original report: The promised felony animal cruelty bill, S.B. 77, has been introduced.
If it passes, Arkansas will have for the first time a law that makes animal cruelty a felony in some circumstances.
Right now, Arkansas is one of a few states where animal cruelty is not a felony no matter the circumstances. Efforts to make some animal cruelty a felony has failed in past legislative sessions.Â Â
The Arkansas Farm Bureau, representing 227,000 farmers in the state, has said it will support this legislation as has the Arkansas Poultry Federation.
There are already dozens of legislators sponsoring the bill. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, the driving force behind the bill,Â pledged $250,000 to train law enforcement on investigating cruelty in Arkansas, in partnership with the Humane Society of the United States and UofA Criminal Justice Institute!
Dale Bartlett,Â lobbyist for HSUS, said, "It was a concession on the Attorney General’s part to get the Arkansas Farm Bureau to quit killing cruelty bills! He knew that it worried us, but by allowing us to participate in his $250,000 law enforcement training initiative he has provided us with the opportunity to ensure that cruelty cases are fully and professionally investigated and brought to trial."
The bill would make aggravated cruelty to a dog, cat or horse a Class D felony on the first offense.Â Â This could mean up to 6 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.Â A.C.A. Â§ 5-4-401, 5-4-201
Aggravated cruelty would be defined as torture, meaning "physical injury …causing … intensive or prolonged pain, serious physical injury, or … death; and… [m]utilating, maiming, burning, poisoning, drowning, or… starving".
Violators could also be ordered to complete up to 400 hours of community service and undergo psychological or psychiatric counseling or treatment. The violator can be ordered to pay for the evaluation or treatment.
The sentence could be enhanced with an additional 5 years in prison if the crime is committed in the presence of a child.
Under the bill animals seized from a person then found guilty of aggravated cruelty "shall not" be returned. Any person who makes a good faith report of animal cruelty would be immune from criminal or civil liability. Veterinarians would be immune from liability for services they provide in connection with an animal cruelty investigation unless they act in bad faith or with malice. Â Â
A second offense of aggravated cruelty within 5 years would be a Class C felony which could mean 3-10 years in prison and a fine up to $10,000.
Under current law a humane society officer can make arrests for animal cruelty. Under the bill, S.B. 77, only a law enforcement officer could make such arrests.
The bill also amends Arkansas Code Â§ 5-62-120, the state law making dog fighting illegal, to include all animal fighting. This means cockfighting is now a Class D felony, including promoting or working at a cockfight, receiving money from admittees to the fight, or selling, purchasing possessing or training a cock for fighting. A spectator at a cock fight would be guilty of a misdemeanor.
McDaniel had this to say to cockfighters who are sending emails, urging lawmakers to oppose a bill strengthening animal-cruelty laws: "They might as well confess to you to being marijuana farmers in their e-mail,"Â McDaniel said Wednesday at a press conference. "So when they e-mail you, looking for you to help them in their cruel, criminal, gambling-based bloodsport, just refer them to me. We’ll see what we can do about putting an exhibit sticker on their e-mails for trial."
All other animal cruelty would remain a misdemeanor unless a person has committed a fourth offense within five years of an earlier animal cruelty crime. In that case it iwould be a Class D felony.
The bill doesÂ offer a scheme for increasing minimum penalties for the first 3 misdemeanor animal cruelty offenses. A first offense of animal cruelty would mean a fine between $150 and $1000 and up to a year in jail, possible community service and psychological or psychiatric counseling or treatment at the violator’s expense. A second offense within 5 years could mean a fine between $400 and a $1000, jail for at least a week and up to 1Â year, at least 30 hours of community service and possible psychological or psychiatric counseling or treatment at the violator’s expense.Â A third offense within 5 years of an animal cruelty charge would raise the minimum penalties further with a minimum fine of $900, at least 90 days in jail and 90 days of community service. The maximum penalties would then remain unchanged.
The offense of cruelty to animals is also defined more clearly in the bill. It would prohibit cruel mistreatment defined as causing unjustifiable pain and suffering. The new law would also define cruelty as failing "to supply an animal …with a sufficient quantity of wholesome food and water" or "to provide an animal …with adequate shelter that is consistent with the breed, species, and type of animal".
Cruelty would include as well carrying or placing an animal "in or upon any motorized vehicle or boat an animal in a cruel or inhumane manner".
There are a number of exemptions, though. The new law would exempt reasonable acts someone commits to protect his or her property from damage or if the animal constitutes a threat of harm or damage to another animal in his or her custody.
The other exemptions include generally accepted husbandry practices, standard veterinary practices, standard animal identification practices presumably such as branding, "generally accepted training for or participation in rodeos, equine activity or competitive activity"; accepted practices in training dogs for hunting, field trials, service work, obedience training, and the like; pest control, hunting, trapping and other activities regulated by Ark. Game & Fish Commission; research activities regulated by the Animal Welfare Act, 7 U.S.C. 2131, et seq. or other federal laws; and reasonable emergency care including humane euthanasia provided in good faith. Â Â
There is a catch all exemption for all legal "agricultural activities, butchering, food processing, marketing, medical activities, zoological activities, or exhibitions". Â So no reason for the Farm Bureau and the Arkansas Poultry Federation not to endorse this bill.
Even with the exemptions this is a good bill for dogs, cats and horses. This is a big step in the fight to stop cockfighting. The bill also proposes real improvements otherwise in the animal cruelty law: more specific definitions and increasing penalties for subsequent crimes. Contact Arkansas representativesÂ and senatorsÂ and urge them to vote yes on S.B. 77.Â Here is a copy of the bill.