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Animal cruelty could be a felony

Patrick Parkinson Of the Record staff

Utah’s House of Representatives is debating legislation that makes it a felony to "torture" an animal. "The things that happen to animals are horrific," said Gretchen Guyer, director of Furburbia, an animal adoption service in the Snyderville Basin.

She recalled a litter of 14 emaciated puppies recently brought to the facility. "Some of them, you could see their hearts beating and I wish that could have been prosecuted as a felony," Guyer said. "It changes your life. You can’t ever get the picture and the way the animal looks out of your mind." Often pet owners neglect their animals by not feeding them, Guyer said, adding, "I’ve seen cases where a dog was tied to a tree and severely burned with cigarettes." "I’ve seen the negative things that happen to the dogs afterward," she said. "To see a dog that cowers when you just stand up because he thinks he’s going to be hurt, it truly breaks your heart." House Bill 61, proposed by Rep. Scott Wyatt, D-Logan could make cases of extreme animal abuse felonies. "I think that it’s a reasonable piece of legislation to try and look after the needs of our four-legged friends," said Democratic Rep. Ross Romero, who represents portions of the Snyderville Basin. HB 61 received a favorable recommendation from a committee this week after many of the ranchers’ concerns were satisfied, Romero said, adding that he will vote for the bill.

Guyer says agriculturalists should be held as accountable as anyone else for animal cruelty. "Can there be abuses on farms? I would say of course there can," Romero said. But while many agree brutal acts sometimes committed against pets should be punishable by a third-degree felony, some rural lawmakers want to make sure their constituents are protected from prosecution when working on their ranches. "They’re worried," state Republican Sen. Beverly Evans said. "We’ve got to be sure we protect agriculture because those things happen when you work cattle."

Livestock is sometimes roped incorrectly and animals suffer injuries on ranches, Evans said.

The western Summit County senator recalled an experience her son had while loading a sheep bound for the Utah State Fair onto a trailer. "It hit the gate and broke it’s leg and it died," Evans said.

So, to address some groups’ concerns the legislation exempts from prosecution those who work in accredited zoos, with livestock or rodeo animals "in accordance with accepted husbandry practices." In many cases, juries would determine whether animal-cruelty cases rise to the level of felony torture.

But Oakley rancher Gerald Young, chair of the Oakley Rodeo Committee, is leery of Wyatt’s bill. Ranchers must often manhandle livestock, he said.

Last Sunday, Young and his son were unable to move a 600-pound calf that had become stuck in a frozen creek on his ranch. They connected a halter to the animal and used a tractor to "pull him right up out of the bank of the ditch by his head," he added.

They rolled the calf into the bucket of the tractor and used the machine to haul the animal into a barn. The $750 calf is expected to survive. "If an environmentalist came along and saw how we had to handle the cattle, they’d say we were abusive, but I’d like to talk to those folks," said Young, who owns roughly 500 cows. "We have sick calves every day."

Rodeo producers must also be partially exempt from felony prosecution for animal cruelty, Evans said, adding, "that’s part of our lifestyle, part of our history, part of our culture."

Oakley’s Fourth of July Rodeo is one of the most popular in the state. "I’ve produced rodeos and that rodeo animal is that specific contractor’s way of making a living. He has to treat that with ultimate care," Young said. "I owned these types of animals and took them down the road to rodeos all over the Intermountain West and you took care of them near as good as you took care of your wife."

Republican Sen. Allen Christensen, who represents much of eastern Summit County, is against the bill.

"We have some excellent penalties and some excellent (animal-control) ordinances already," Christensen said. "There’s a lot of variance and a lot of room for what you are going to call torture."

Summit County Commissioner Ken Woolstenhulme also opposes HB 61. "It’s a bad bill because I don’t see that much cruelty to animals taking place I just don’t see those things happening to the extent that they need to start passing additional laws," said Woolstenhulme, a rancher in Oakley. "I think those do-gooders are sticking their nose into things that they shouldn’t be in. They ought to worry about more important things at the Legislature." But people who abuse animals sometimes abuse human beings, said Evans, who hadn’t yet read HB 61 this week. "A lot of times people who are cruel with animals also have other histories," she added.


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