For the last several years, Senator Angela Hill and others have worked to revise Mississippi’s laws when it comes to the abuse of domesticated dogs and cats. This years bill in the Senate, SB 2658, would revise the codes of the “Mississippi Dog and Cat Protection Law of 2011” to increase the penalties for individuals convicted of aggravated cruelty against these specific groups of animals.
Similar bills were filed in the House, HB 1565 and HB 272, but did not survive the committee deadline. HB 1565 was passed with minimal to no opposition in Judiciary B, however it was double referred to Agriculture, where it was recommitted at the last minute by Rep. Ken Morgan.
Senator Hill said this is the first time she’s seen one of these animal cruelty bills to revise the original law, make it out of committee. She believes it might have something to do with the recent Federal Pact Act.
“I think that may have had an impact on people when they saw the Pact Act go through Congress and pass with not one opposing vote bipartisan,” said Hill. “That bill was much more far reaching than the Mississippi Dog and Cat Protection Act upgrades we’ve been trying to pass.” The Pact Act not only includes dogs and cats under protection from malicious abuse, but also extends to all mammals, reptiles and amphibians.
Hill said the goal with this bill would be to upgrade the state’s law already in place to ensure that any torturous acts mentioned in the text like crushing, suffocating, impaling, or burning, could be charged as a felony on a first offense.
The bill would see that a first offense of aggravated cruelty would bring with it a felony conviction and fine of no more than $5,000 and or up to three years committed to the Department of Corrections.
“Currently, you can do one of those things to a dog or cat in front of a police officer, put it on social media and laugh about it, no matter how heinous it is and you can only get a misdemeanor,” said Hill.
The bill also allows for officers to charge more than one count per incident. Hill said right now, even if there are multiple animals being mistreated, officers are only able to charge an individual with one count of cruelty per incident.
A second offense could land you with a fine up to $10,000 and up to five years in prison. The original language of the bill allowed for 10 years in jail, however an amendment carried to reduce that sentence to five years.
If you’re convicted of simple cruelty, you would also be banned from owning or living with a domesticated dog or cat for up to five years from your sentencing. If it was more than four counts of cruelty, you could be banned from owning those pets for up to 15 years.
If you get caught owning one anyway, the animal will be seized by the state and you could be fined another $1,000 for each pet.
“We are trying to give law enforcement the tools that they need to shut these breeders down who are starving their dogs to where they are eating each others bodies, not responsible breeders, but anyone who is neglecting a dog enough to where they are starving to death,” said Hill.
Hill said law enforcement officers have been behind harsher penalties for offenders for years. She said the state should not just rely on federal enforcement for these offenses under the Pact Act, but put the ability to address it in the hands of local law enforcement.
Over the years data has been released that correlates the abuse of animals in a perpetrators life, to later abusing people. Hill said the bill would help to protect society as a whole from these people being able to continue that cycle of abuse to animals or humans.
“We want to protect these animals because they’re innocent but we also want to ensure that we don’t hire these people to take care of grandma in the nursing home,” said Hill.
Hill said she believes what we do with legislation like this speaks to what kind of morality we really have as a society, when we choose to defend the defenseless like animals and children.
“I think as a moral society it’s time we step up and say we are not going to put up with this. We are not going to put up with people torturing defenseless animals like dogs and cats,” said Hill.