Animal Protection Laws
By Samantha Gordon
“You can judge the morality of a nation by the way the society treats its animals.”
- Mahatma Gandhi
Imagine driving home one day and you notice the car ahead of you is slowing down slightly, you think they are having car problems so you slow down too, perhaps you can offer assistance. But instead you see someone in the car throwing a dog out of the window into the ditch and then speed off. Shocked and sickened you pull off of the road and run over to where the dog was thrown, afraid of what you might find. You can tell the dog is alive so you rush to his aid; it appears his back legs are broken so you carefully pick him up and take him to your car to usher him to the vet. You breathe a sigh of relief when the vet tells you he will be fine and you promise the dog you will take care of him for the rest of his life. Such cruelty is difficult to comprehend but far more common than any of us realize which is why animal protection laws are so important.
The Massachusetts Body of Liberties enacted in 1641 was the first animal protection law passed in the United States, though rudimentary in scope and directed more towards working animals it would lay the groundwork for future animal protection laws. As the country moved away from the agrarian life society began to see animals as being more domestic rather than as agricultural commodities. As the country became more mechanized there were fewer animals working in the fields and dogs and cats became the focus of animal protection laws and while much progress has been made there is still much work to be done. Many of our current day anti-cruelty laws can be traced back to Martin’s Act which was enacted in 1822 which further expanded the existing laws and offered more protection to animals to guard against cruelty and improper treatment.
Prior to 1986 only four states had laws against animal cruelty, now all fifty do. The five states with the best laws are Illinois, Oregon, Maine, California and Michigan; the states needing improvement are North Dakota, Utah, Wyoming, Iowa and Kentucky. In the best five states the judge has the ability to take away the abusers rights of ownership and restrict future ownership. Each state varies greatly in terms of punishment, defining basic care and ownership restrictions for offenders. Many states now allow for animals to be included in domestic violence protection orders.
The ASPCA estimates that in this country an animal is abused every ten seconds. Exact numbers are impossible to determine because much of the abuse goes unreported. Animal cruelty is not limited to a violent act towards an animal but also includes neglect and failing to provide for the animal’s general well-being, dogs suffer at the hands of humans the most, accounting for 64% of all incidents of animal cruelty. Animal abuse is an indicator crime and there is a strong correlation between violence towards animals and violence towards humans, prompting law enforcement to take these crimes more seriously. Seventy-five percent of animal abuse incidents occur in the presence of women and children and seventy-one percent of women with pets say their abuser targets their animals as well. Earlier this year the FBI announced that animal abuse will be prosecuted as a crime against society and is now considered a Group A felony. Data collection on such offenders began in January of this year with the intent of better tracking crimes against animals and monitoring repeat offenders and hopefully putting an end to further abuse.
Animals are an important part of our families and offer us unconditional love and companionship, it is our responsibility to ensure they are protected and cared for. Please take the time to check into your state and local laws regarding animal protection to make sure the laws in place sufficiently guard against animal cruelty and if they don’t be the voice for those that have none.