Honoring Animal Victims: Landmarks in Legislation
Concerned citizens and legislators across the nation have ensured that the deaths of abused animals have not been in vain. Among the many state laws dealing directly with criminal animal abuse and neglect, many directly honor the animal victims who inspired their passage. Here are some such landmarks in U.S. legislation, including a number drafted with the assistance of the Animal Legal Defense Fund.
For a detailed survey of the general animal protection and related statutes for all of the states, principal districts and territories of the United States of America, and for all of Canada, see ALDF’s “Animal Protection Laws of the United States of America & Canada,” available by download.
1994: Pasado’s Law
Washington, signed by Gov. Mike Lowery
Pasado the donkey, the 21-year-old beloved fixture at a Seattle area park, died after three teen boys snuck into his pasture one night and attempted to ride him. When he resisted, they began beating him with tree branches the size of clubs. When he fell and could no longer walk, they tied a noose around his neck and pulled him up a tree, strangling him to death. Park workers discovered Pasado hanging from the tree the next morning. For this act, the three boys were charged with breaking and entering—the choice of the prosecutor because it carried a far greater sentence than beating an animal to death.
Representatives Steve Van Luven and Sandra Romero sponsored Pasado’s Law, whereby any intentional act of animal cruelty would become a Class C felony—the lowest of felonies in Washington State, yet light-years away from the lowest misdemeanor status where the penalty for torturing an animal stood at the time.
1999: Buster’s Law
New York, signed by Gov. George E. Pataki
In 1997, Chester Williamson, 16, allegedly doused Buster, a cat, with kerosene and then lit him on fire. This case prompted Assemblyman James Tedisco to introduce legislation that would make animal cruelty a felony in New York. At the time of Buster’s death, animal cruelty was a misdemeanor. The bill was appropriately named “Buster’s Bill” and after years of hard work, it was signed into law by Governor Pataki in 1999. On June 7, 2000, Gov. Pataki signed another bill strengthening Buster’s Law, requiring anyone convicted under that law to forfeit the abused animal.
In May 2008, Williamson pleaded guilty to sexually abusing a mentally disabled 12-year-old girl after luring her to a city park.
2000: Gucci’s Law
Alabama, signed by Gov. Don Siegelman (as Gucci looked on)
A 12-week-old chow-husky mix puppy was beaten, hung by the neck, tortured, and set on fire by a group of teenagers in 1994. The dog, named Gucci, survived but was severely burned. The only adult abuser was sentenced to six months in jail while the two juvenile abusers received sentences of community service.
The case drew international outrage and led to changes in Alabama law. Gucci’s law, or the Pet Protection Act, made first-degree cruelty to a domesticated dog or cat a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
Gucci became the lifelong companion of his rescuer and finally passed away in 2010 at the ripe old age of 16.
2000: T-Bo Act
Tennessee, signed by Gov. Donald K. Sundquist
In August 2000, Senator Steve Cohen’s 12-year-old Shih Tzu, T-Bo, was killed in his own yard by a larger, aggressive dog who was running at large. Cohen learned that the law would only allow him to recover the “market value” of his dog, motivating him to push his colleagues to pass the T-Bo Act, which ALDF assisted in drafting. This Tennessee statute provides that a companion animal guardian may seek noneconomic damages up to $5,000 for the death of his or her companion animal against the person who is liable for causing the death or injuries that led to the animal’s death. Thus, Tennessee became the first state allowing companion animal guardians to sue for emotional distress damages for the wrongful deaths of their animals.
2001: Loco’s Law
Texas, signed by Gov. Rick Perry
Loco was an 8-month old puppy stolen from his family’s home and returned days later onto their porch. His eyes had been gouged out by an unknown perpetrator. His story highlighted the weak animal cruelty laws in the state, which would have only allowed for misdemeanor charges against his abuser. Loco appeared at the legislature with supporters for stronger animal cruelty laws. “Loco’s Law” made severe acts of cruelty punishable as state jail felonies on the first offense and requires juvenile offenders to undergo counseling. Loco was present at the bill signing and added his own paw print.
2001: Rose-Tu’s Law
Oregon, signed by Gov. John Kitzhaber
On December 21, 1999, a woman and child visiting the Oregon Zoo witnessed Fred Marion, an elephant keeper, aggressively strike a 6-year-old female elephant named Rose-Tu with an elephant hook. The keeper was not disciplined for that incident, although zoo officials modified their policy on elephant handling to require keepers to use only one hand while holding an elephant hook. Multnomah County Animal Control determined cruelty charges were unfounded in that case. On April 17, 2000, the same keeper allegedly abused Rose-Tu by using “excessive and inappropriate force” striking her with his ankus and attempting to insert it in her anus. The keeper was later fired. Investigation showed that Rose-Tu suffered more than 170 wounds.
Animal protection law upgrades named the Rose-Tu Law, authored by ALDF’s director of legislative affairs, Stephan Otto, made Oregon the first state in the country to legally recognize the link between animal abuse and violence toward people. The law increased the penalties for Animal Abuse in the First Degree from a misdemeanor to a felony for a defendant who has two or more prior animal abuse or domestic violence convictions, or for those who knowingly abuse animals in front of children. It also prohibits those convicted of animal abuse, neglect or abandonment from possessing any domestic animal for at least five years.
Rose-Tu’s Law also established more objective definitions for “physical injury” in an animal. The prior definitions had caused many problems for authorities seeking to enforce existing animal protection laws in cases like Rose-Tu’s. It also reestablished the crime of sexual assault of an animal–a crime which had originally been part of a broader law but inadvertently repealed more than thirty years ago.
2002: Illinois Companion Animal Hoarder Act
Illinois, signed by Gov. George H. Ryan
Cheryl Dashke was found in 2000 living with 127 neglected, filthy animals and storing nine dead ones in the refrigerator of her Granite City, Illinois mobile home. Ledy VanKavage, an attorney with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, took photographs at the home that led to the passage of the Illinois Companion Animal Hoarder Act in 2002, which increased all penalties for animal cruelty and mandated psychological counseling for hoarders.
The Illinois Companion Animal Hoarder Act honors the countless nameless animal victims of animal hoarders. Under this law, a person previously convicted of not providing proper care can be charged with a felony for subsequent offenses. A judge can declare the individual a hoarder and order him or her to undergo psychological evaluation and treatment. Illinois is the only state with laws that specifically target animal hoarding.
2003: Dexter’s Law
Wyoming, signed by Gov. Dave Freudenthal
On February 16, 2001,Travis Wilson allegedly kidnapped Dexter, a basset hound belonging to his girlfriend, and beat him severely until he was partially paralyzed. In March of 2001, after Dexter returned home to convalesce, the defendant allegedly kidnapped him again, cut off all four of his legs, burned him, killed him, and threw the remains onto his guardian’s driveway.
ALDF’s director of legislative affairs, Stephan Otto, wrote the initial drafts of “Dexter’s Law,” the Wyoming statute that 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.”
2003: General Patton Act
Tennessee, signed by Gov. Phil Bredesen
On New Year’s Day 2003, police officers from the Tennessee Highway Patrol and Cookeville Police performed a traffic stop on robbery suspects who were actually a couple, their son and dogs returning from vacation. In the videotaped event, the officers did not close the car doors despite the pleas of the family, and when one dog bounded out toward Officer Eric Hall, he shot the dog to death.
Sponsored by Sen. Steve Cohen (see T-Bo Act) and Rep. Rob Briley, the “General Patton Act” mandates training in animal behavior for law enforcement officers.
2003: Groucho Act
West Virginia, signed by Gov. Bob Wise
In June 2001, Michael Musulin allegedly hit a woman and her dog while driving drunk. Groucho, the dog, was killed and the woman was injured.
ALDF’s director of legislative affairs, Stephan Otto, authored the West Virginia statute, dubbed the “Groucho Act,” which 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. It also 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).
2006: Scruffy’s and Magnum’s Law
Kansas, signed by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius
In June 1997, defendants Marcus Rodriguez, Lance Arsenault, Richard Golubski, and juvenile Jose Gutierrez allegedly burned and beat to death a pet dog they had stolen; they videotaped their crime. Scruffy, a Yorkie, was shot with a pellet gun, placed in a plastic bag, set on fire while still alive, and beaten repeatedly with a shovel.
In 2001, the Kansas Senate rejected SB229 “Scruffy’s Law,” which would have introduced a felony-level provision to the Kansas cruelty statutes.
In August 2005, an 11-week-old Labrador-mix puppy was discovered near death in a trash bin. Tortured by an unknown assailant, the puppy had multiple injuries, including a broken leg, cuts, and chemical burns over much of his body. He had been bound with wire and one paw had been stuffed into his mouth. The vets and staff who worked to save him named him Magnum. He died a few days later of his injuries.
Citizen activism intensified to pass a felony cruelty law. “Scruffy’s/Magnum’s Law” finally passed in 2006, including felony provisions for animal cruelty and requiring those convicted of animal cruelty to serve at least 30 days in jail and pay a fine from $500 to $5,000. In jail, they must have a psychological evaluation and complete an anger management course. Unintentionally neglecting an animal remains a misdemeanor, although a second conviction would mean a minimum of five days in jail.
2008: Henry’s Law
Utah, signed by Gov. Jon Huntsman, Jr.
On May 25, 2006, Marc Vincent had allegedly been arguing with his wife when he chased her dog with a leaf blower and then put the dog in an oven at 200 degrees. He took the dog out once, but put him back in. Henry, a Chihuahua mix less than a year old, was in the oven for a total of about five minutes. Henry lost an eye, he suffered burns to his chest and front legs, his claws were fused together from the heat, and he would never again be able to walk normally.
“Henry’s Law” adds a felony provision in Utah law for deliberate torture of a cat or a dog on the first offense. Senator Gene Davis sponsored an original bill that was stricter than the one that finally passed. During the 2007 session, Gov. Huntsman convened a special session to consider the bill. The final bill that passed was sponsored by Senator Allen Christensen, although he sponsored an earlier bill that would have weakened Utah cruelty laws. According to AnimalLawCoaltion.com,
During the last session when Henry’s Law was under consideration, Sen. Christensen was concerned a felony charge for torturing an animal could “potentially ruin” the abuser’s life for what may be a “one time stupid thing.”
2008: Romeo’s Law
Kentucky, signed by Gov. Steve Beshear
On May 31, 2007, Ronald Turner allegedly severely beat his Labrador puppy, Romeo. A neighbor videotaped the attack and showed it to police. A police officer reported the tape shows Turner “choking the dog several times; it shows him slamming the dog up against the tree, rolling the doghouse over on top of the dog, then doing a body slam with the dog on the ground.” Turner claimed the dog bit him.
State Senator Tom Buford and Rep. Stan Lee sponsored “Romeo’s Law” to make some instances of dog or cat torture a felony. Anyone convicted under Romeo’s Law could face up to 5 years in prison. The governor signed Romeo’s Law in April 2008.
One major amendment to the bill allowed that the torture of a dog or cat would still be a misdemeanor on the first offense if the animal sustained physical injury and a Class D felony on second and subsequent offenses. If the animal suffered serious physical injury or death, the abuser could be charged with a Class D felony on the first and subsequent offenses.
2010: Justin’s Law
Suffolk County, New York, signed by Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy
Justin, a 2-year-old male Doberman mix, was locked inside a bedroom in a foreclosed house in Centereach, New York and left to die. When the dog was found by Suffolk County SCPA officer Regina Benfante in May 2010, he was covered in feces and urine and starved nearly to death. When veterinarians first examined him, Justin weighed only 19 pounds and was not expected to survive the night. But as the days and weeks went by, he began putting the weight back on, and he was ultimately adopted by the officer who discovered him. As his recovery progressed, SCSPCA caregivers renamed their patient Justin because they said he was found “just in time.”
Justin was the inspiration behind Suffolk County’s historic animal abuser registry legislation—the first of its kind in the world–requiring that anyone convicted of a felony or misdemeanor animal abuse or fighting crime will appear on a publicly accessible and searchable database for five years. Animal abuse offenders age 18 years or older must provide their name, address and photograph for posting in the online database. Convicted animal abusers who fail to register will be subject to a $1,000 fine and/or up to a year in jail. “Justin’s Law” was sponsored by Suffolk County Legislator Jon Cooper.
2010: Susie’s Law
North Carolina, signed by Gov. Beverly Perdue (as Susie looked on)
The young pit bull mix was just 8-weeks-old when she was burned, beaten, and left for dead by Lashawn Whitehead of Greensboro, N.C. She lay dying in a park, sweltering in the August heat, before she was found, two weeks later, covered in maggots and clinging to life. The dog, later named Susie, made a full recovery. Whitehead pled guilty and was convicted of the violent attack on his girlfriend’s dog, but was sentenced to only 6 to 8 months of probation, the maximum penalty allowed at the time under North Carolina law.
“Susie’s Law” made intentional neglect resulting in death a felony. It also strengthened the felony penalty for malicious cruelty, killing, intentional starving, or poisoning of an animal, allowing courts to sentence even first-time offenders to jail. Under the law, a judge can sentence an abuser to up to eight months in jail. In January 2011, a man who left three dogs to starve inside a doghouse became the first abuser to be charged under Susie’s Law.
Today, Susie’s new guardian brings her to classrooms to teach elementary school children about how to interact with dogs. Susie is also in training to become a therapy dog—now recovered from her own savage burning, she will be going into hospital burn units to bring comfort to burn victims.
2011: Cooney’s Law
Nevada, signed by Gov. Brian Sandoval
In October 2010, Raymond Rios claimed he thought a mouse had crawled into his beagle-mix, Cooney, so he used a box cutter to cut open her abdomen and watched as she ran around the room, bleeding, her intestines falling out. Cooney died of shock and blood loss. The man later pled guilty to the most serious charge he could face under Nevada’s then-current law – a misdemeanor. He paid a small fine, was released with credit for jail time served, and was prohibited from owning dogs for two years.
“Cooney’s Law” made the most heinous acts of cruelty against dogs, cats and companion animals a felony on the first offense. Before “Cooney’s Law,” someone in Nevada could torture an animal to death on three separate occasions before they would face a felony animal cruelty charge. Under the new law, a person who “willfully and maliciously” tortures or unjustifiably maims, mutilates or kills a cat, dog or animal “kept for companionship or pleasure” will be guilty of a category D felony, and a category C felony if the act is done in order to “threaten, intimidate or terrorize another person.” The new law also allows for the confidential reporting of suspected animal abuse, and clarifies the punishment for another provision.
2012: Daniel’s Law
Pennsylvania, signed by Gov. Tom Corbett
In October 2011, a shelter worker in Alabama locked nineteen dogs into a carbon monoxide gas chamber to be killed. After seventeen minutes, eighteen of the dogs were dead, but against the odds, one beagle survived. He was named Daniel and was adopted to a happy home. Since then, Daniel’s story has inspired laws to end to the use of gas chambers as a method of euthanasia.
Senator Andrew Dinniman and Representative John Maher sponsored “Daniel’s Law” to end the use of carbon monoxide for euthanasia in Pennsylvania. Governor Corbett signed the bill on October 24, 2012, making Pennsylvania the 20th state to ban this inhumane practice.
More of Daniel’s story and photos are available on Daniel’s Facebook page.
2013: Nitro’s Law
Ohio, signed by Gov. John Kasich
In October 2008, law enforcement authorities found dead and starving dogs locked inside filthy kennels at Steve Croley’s High Caliber K-9 “training facility.” Eight dogs died terrible deaths by starvation: a Rottweiler named Nitro, three Doberman Pinschers, one American pit bull terrier, one Border Collie, and two German Shepherds. Twelve others were alive but severely emaciated. At the time, Ohio’s felony anti-cruelty law was applicable only on second and subsequent offenses. With no felony provision available to them, prosecutors charged Croley with four counts of misdemeanor animal cruelty. Croley pleaded no contest, and was sentenced to four months in jail, fined $1,000, paid restitution of $1,796, and ordered not to own any dogs during his three-year probation.
Now, with the passage of “Nitro’s Law,” a kennel owner, operator, or employee who abuses an animal can be charged with a felony. This is the first law passed in Ohio that allows animal cruelty to be charged as a felony on a first offense.
2013: Patrick’s Law
New Jersey, signed by Gov. Chris Christie
Kisha Curtis starved a pit bull puppy nearly to death. In March 2011, she wrapped him in a garbage bag and threw him alive down a garbage chute, which went 22 floors down to her apartment building’s basement. An alert maintenance worker saw the bag move and discovered the emaciated dog, close to death. The dog should have weighed 50 pounds but weighed only 20 pounds. According to officials, the dog had not been fed for about a month. After pleading guilty to fourth degree animal cruelty, Curtis was sentenced to 18 months of probation and ordered that she pass her high school equivalency exam. The dog, named Patrick by rescuers, was nursed back to health.
“Patrick’s Law” increased the criminal and civil penalties for failure to provide an animal with food, water, or other necessities.
2014: Dusty’s Law
New Jersey, signed by Gov. Chris Christie
Dusty was a puppy in training to be a seeing-eye dog when he was attacked by another dog in July 2010. Although he recovered from his severe injuries, he was unable to continue training due to emotional trauma.
“Dusty’s Law” increased penalties against a person if the person or their dog kills, injures, or interferes with a guide dog.