Early this summer, The Humane Society of the United States published their State Animal Cruelty Chart. This is a chart that is of vital importance to every animal lover in the country. Some may use the chart to decide whether to relocate to a particular area. Long-time residents may use the chart to understand what specific demands still need to be placed on their lawmakers. Everyone can use the chart to better understand the progress – or lack of same – that is happening, with respect to animal abuse laws throughout the United States.
One of the first things one notices about the State Animal Cruelty Chart is that the felony offenses are identified as different classes or by different numbers. To better understand this information, it is helpful to read WiseGeek’s “What are the Different Felony Classes?” It is very frustrating to feel a leap of hope upon seeing that animal abuse is now a felony in one’s state, but then to realize that it is only a minor felony and that the criminal gets three or more opportunities to abuse an animal before his or her crime even begins to move up the line toward the maximum penalty.
The next shock comes when the reader notices that it is the option of the courts to decide if the criminal animal abuser will be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony. One begins to wonder why some states even bother with passing felony animal abuse laws if the public is not going to be required to abide by them. The “Applies to…” column is the column that will help people decide whether they really want to move into a particular state or, if they are already there, whether they need to do some serious lobbying of their politicians. For example: Illinois starts low. The maximum penalty is only a Class 3 felony for a first offense. However, the “Applies to” column tells us that, in the State of Illinois, the only times that animal abuse is classified as a felony is if an animal is tortured or if there is aggravated cruelty to companion animals. In all other cases, animal cruelty is deemed to be a misdemeanor! Here’s yet another outrageous example of an animal abuse law. In Indiana, it is – evidently – OK to abuse the following vertebrates: livestock, game, furbearers, fish, reptiles, amphibians, and nuisance wildlife. If someone abuses any other vertebrates, such as companion animals, they get a pass the first time and the second time they are charged only with a Class D felony. In South Dakota, the maximum penalty for any animal abuse is a Class 1 misdemeanor and Guam only charges animal abuse as a petty misdemeanor. The Virgin Islands is the only state or territory in the United States in which animal abuse of all kinds is an unqualified felony.
What is wrong with us? How can this situation still exist in the United States in the 21st century? How can we still be producing Americans who have the capability of opening their mouths and saying “Its only an animal” and still call themselves civilized? If Ghandi was right and “One can measure the greatness and moral progress of a nation by the way it treats its animals,” then the United States has a long way to go before it can make any sanctimonious, back-slapping, self-congratulatory proclamations about its greatness.
Thank you to The Humane Society of the United States for their State Animal Cruelty Chart. With luck, everyone who reads it will look into the eyes of a helpless animal and then redouble their efforts to make this country truly great by passing animal abuse laws that bite.