Animal-cruelty accord reached on the Hill
February 29, 2008
People who abuse horses in Summit County should face the same felony charges as those who torture cats or dogs, animal-rights activists say.
This week state senators voted 22-6 to approve Senate Bill 297 that would raise the penalty for animal cruelty in Utah, one of seven states where the crime is not a felony.
Horses, however, are not protected by the bill.
Sen. Allen Christensen, a North Ogden Republican who represents eastern Summit County, sponsored SB 297, which would make it a third degree felony to torture animals except those at zoos, hunting dogs or raptors, circus animals, animals that perform in rodeos, wildlife and domesticated cattle, sheep, goats, turkeys, swine, horses, bison and elk.
Ranchers and advocates for animal rights have clashed on Capitol Hill over the stricter penalties for years.
"I am extremely happy to bring this before you, mostly so I can get rid of it," Christensen told colleagues.
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SB 297 is now being considered by the House.
Parkite Tracey Hogan, who owns two cats and a horse, stressed Utah’s cruelty laws must be updated.
"Utah is far behind the rest of the country," she said in a telephone interview Friday. "Animals have rights and it’s really sad that Utah is so far behind in recognizing that. It’s the agricultural community."
Animals on farms, however, are treated better that many pets, said Sterling Banks, Utah State University extension agent for Summit County.
"There are extremes on both sides and there is always the bad apple in the barrel," Banks said. "That’s the bottom line with everything."
Ranchers who treat livestock in accordance with accepted husbandry practices are not torturing the animals, Banks stressed.
"That’s their livelihood," Banks explained. "For them to stay in business they’re going to follow the best management practices."
Farmers enact "quality assurance programs" to help ensure livestock is treated well, he said.
"If you don’t take care of your property, you’re going to go out of business," Banks said.
Animals that perform in rodeos are some of the best cared for livestock around, he said.
"If animals are being abused, there should be punishment," Banks said.
But animal torture has been linked to violent criminal behavior later in life, Hogan said.
"A lot of people who abuse other human beings started abusing animals," she said.
Rep. Christine Johnson, D-Salt Lake City, chided lawmakers who did not include horses among animals protected by the tougher measure.
"I ride my horse every day," Hogan said. "My horse is constantly a companion animal, I do not consider him livestock."
Legislation dubbed "Henry’s Law," named after a black dog that was placed inside a 200-degree oven for five minutes, has tried for years to make animal cruelty a third degree felony, which means those convicted could serve up to a year in jail and be sentenced to pay a $5,000 fine.
Henry’s abuser served about four months in jail after being convicted of a misdemeanor.
"Henry had his eye sucked out by a leaf blower and then was thrown in an oven by his owner," Johnson said. "This is depravity and it’s very sad to think that people behave this way."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.