Arkansas Legislature Considering Tougher Cruelty Laws

Arkansas animal activists are hoping companion animals and horses will soon be protected by harsher penalties for any person who tortures or cruelly kills them, or fails to provide sufficient care.

Bills have been introduced in both houses of the state legislature that would make animal abuse a Class D Felony, rather than a misdemeanor as it now stands.

"The penalties now are just little inconveniences," said Jaxie Heppner, director of Beebe Humane Society in Beebe, Ark. She believes that stiffer penalties would deter repeat offenders.

Animal cruelty is a felony in 42 states.

The Arkansas legislation proposes harsher punishment for "aggravated cruelty," which is defined as torturing an animal or intentionally inflicting or prolonging pain, killing an animal in a depraved manner, or failing to provide care that results in prolonged suffering or death. It specifically prohibits cruelty to an animal in the presence of a child.

Along with imposing Class D felony penalties, the court is required to order a psychological evaluation, place the abused animal in protective care, and prohibit the abuser from owning an animal for five years.

The proposed legislation does not prohibit a person from defending oneself or another person who is being imminently threatened by an unconfined dog, cat, or horse. It also excludes a person injuring or killing an animal that poses an imminent threat to livestock or poultry. A "Good Samaritan" attempt to render aid to an injured animal, veterinary research, and euthanasia are other exclusions.

Horses are specifically included in the legislation, although the bills will not re-categorize horses as companion animals. Some equine advocates, including the American Association of Equine Practitioners, oppose re-categorizing horses from livestock to pets.

About the Author

Judith Lee

Judith Lee is a freelance health care writer who has written for a number of medical and health care journals and health care companies. As a long-time equestrian and horse owner, she has a particular interest in equine health care. She also operates an equestrian education program, Riding for Fun, geared toward adult beginners and returning riders.

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