Friday, November 1, 2002

Law on animal cruelty awaits


By James Hannah
The Associated Press

When Pat Tiberi, as a state representative, tried to toughen Ohio's animal abuse laws, he ended up with 18 different drafts of proposed bills.

His legislation never passed. Neither did more than a half-dozen similar bills proposed over the past 20 years.

Ohio is among 14 states where violations of animal cruelty laws are misdemeanors. In the other states, the offenses are felonies, with stiffer punishments.

Another bill to increase the penalties in Ohio - where the maximum sentence now is three months in jail - has passed the Senate and is pending in the House.

The state's rural-urban makeup and concerns of breeders, hunters and farmers historically have contributed to a standoff, supporters and opponents say.

Mr. Tiberi, a Republican who now is a U.S. representative, said the issue seemed to pit urban-suburban dwellers, who wanted tougher animal abuse penalties, against rural residents, who didn't.

"We had some pretty strong organizations on both sides," he said. "We tried real hard to bring them all together and listen to their concerns. It was very, very difficult."

For example, veterinarians believed they should be the ones to clip tails, while animal breeders thought they also should have that right, he said.

Animal-rights activists resisted compromising with hunters and researchers, farmers wanted to exclude livestock, hunters wanted to exclude hunting dogs, and some people didn't want to give humane society officers the power to come onto their property and remove animals, he said.

"It will never happen in Ohio," said June Lucas, a Democratic former state representative who for years supported efforts to toughen animal-cruelty laws.

Ms. Lucas blames strong lobbying by the Ohio Association of Animal Owners. She said opponents argue that a stronger law would create a "slippery slope and how the next thing you know the animal-rights advocates will want to put snowsuits on our cows."

Polly Ward, secretary-treasurer of the Ohio Association of Animal Owners, said making animal abuse a felony could make penalties for mistreating animals nearly the same as for mistreating humans.

"We have a moral problem with that," she said.

And she said dog breeders who clip their puppies' tails would be at risk of prosecution.

The current bill, sponsored by Sen. David Goodman, R-Bexley, applies only to dogs, cats and any companion animal kept inside a home. It does not include livestock, wild animals or hunting dogs, as long as the dogs are treated within commonly accepted practices.

The bill would ban any act of cruelty, including torturing, tormenting, beating or poisoning.

The maximum penalties would be six months in jail for a first offense and a year in prison and a $2,500 fine for a second offense.

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