Last March, Arizonans discovered a dumping ground for dead dogs, some with yellow rope tied around their legs and necks, on a vacant lot in south Phoenix.
An 11-person task force has been established with the goal of improving animal welfare in the state and is examining shortcomings in the state law that leave prosecutors unable to pursue animal cruelty cases.
“We have gathered together a group of passionate community leaders, local business owners and animal welfare experts to create a system that will ensure the safety and well-being of all animal residents of our city and state,” Councilwoman Thelda Williams told CBS5AZ.
The group intends to raise public awareness about animal abuse through public service announcements and legislative changes that address incidents that are caused by both ignorance and intentional acts of cruelty. They want to work with schools to educate children about being kind to animals and may even make an app to help people report suspected abuse. Police investigated nearly 300 animal cruelty cases last year and were unable to solve 203 of them, many of which were abandoned animals whose owners couldn’t be tracked down.
“Last year the Arizona Humane Society, which is contracted with Phoenix Police Department to assist in animal cruelty investigations, ran about 5,000 calls. This year in the first eight months, we’ve had 5,700 calls,” said Chris West, of the Arizona Humane Society.
Under the current law, neglect and abandonment are misdemeanors that can result in a maximum sentence of 30 days in jail and up to $500 in fines, while intentional mistreatment, or repeat offenses, can result in a felony charge with up to two years in prison and $150,000 in fines.
The task force members believe that more of the cases that have been brought to law enforcements attention would have resulted in convictions if the laws were clearer and plan to clarify definitions of cruel confinement and abandonment, in addition to establishing guidelines for acceptable shelter and requirements for clean drinking water.
“Basically, we are combing different statutes in different states for definitions that would allow for appropriate (police and rescuer) intervention,” Rep. Kate Brophy McGee , (R-Phoenix) told the AP.
Another issue the group plans to tackle are charges for those who abuse animals in domestic violence cases.
“Those are probably the (cases) that offend prosecutors the most,” Tutelman said. “What we are talking about here are people who have a pet that really is a part of their family — an innocent part of their family — and to have them subject to abuse the same way someone in a bad relationship is subject to abuse — it’s just tragic for the person who is being abused and for the animal,” Deputy City Prosecutor John Tutelman told the Arizona Republic.
The group is planning on introducing tougher legislation after the next session begins in January.
Photo credit: Thinkstock