More States Join Anti-Cruelty FightMarch 12th, 2003
Two years of work by ALDF bore fruit this winter when West Virginia and Wyoming became the 39th and 40th states to create felony anti-cruelty laws. ALDF's Anti-Cruelty Division worked closely with legislators, activists and concerned citizens in both states to make the new laws a reality.
"Slightly more than a decade ago — right before the formation of ALDF's Zero Tolerance for Cruelty campaign — seven states had felony animal cruelty statutes. Now we're up to 40," says the Anti-Cruelty Division's director of legislative affairs, Stephan Otto, who authored the West Virginia law. "That's a dramatic shift."
Otto also wrote the initial drafts of Wyoming's "Dexter's Law," which gained widespread support in the state after the gruesome torture-killing of a basset hound named Dexter two years ago. The new Wyoming statute makes it a felony, punishable by up to two years imprisonment and/or a fine up to $5,000, if someone "knowingly and with intent to cause death, injury or undue suffering, cruelly beats, tortures, torments, injures or mutilates an animal resulting in the death or required euthanasia of the animal." Wyoming Governor Dave Freudenthal signed the bill into law March 6.
The West Virginia statute, dubbed the "Groucho Act" in memory of a dog killed by a reckless driver in a hit-and-run accident, made a number of improvements to the state's animal protection laws. It added a felony provision — punishable by one to three years in jail and a fine between $1,000 and $5,000 — for torturing or maliciously killing an animal. It removed a statutory cap on damages limiting civil awards to the "assessed value" of an injured or killed dog. It required courts to order and review mental health evaluations before granting probation for convicted offenders. And it prohibited those convicted under the cruelty laws from possessing or living with any animal for five years (in the case of misdemeanors) or fifteen years (in felony cases). West Virginia Governor Bob Wise signed the bill into law March 11.
"Encouraging states to create and enforce strong animal protection laws is an important part of ALDF's mission," says ALDF founder and general counsel Joyce Tischler. "So I'm very proud of what we've accomplished in Wyoming and West Virginia. It's taken a lot of effort to get this far. And we're not through yet. We've still got 10 states without felony anti-cruelty laws, so there's still work to be done."
Update: In late March, Kentucky became the 41st state to pass a felony animal cruelty law. The states currently without felony abuse provisions are Alaska, Arkansas, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota and Utah. If you would like to learn more about improving the animal protection laws in your area, click here.