Leader Blues

Monday, January 26, 2009

EDITORIAL>>Animal cruelty bill heads for passage

Arkansas finally will have an animal-cruelty law worth the name, but who could have imagined that it would take negotiations on the order of the Irish peace talks? The Senate passed the bill easily this week and the bill had enough sponsors in the House of Representatives to assure passage next week. Governor Beebe, who deserves some credit for investing his considerable clout in the issue, will sign it into law.

While Arkansas was virtually alone among the states in not allowing the criminal prosecution of people who torture and neglect animals and stories about the abuse of animals were legion, the legislature stymied bills to enhance the punishment session after session. Arkansas voters six years ago defeated a mild cruelty initiative, soundly. The Arkansas Farm Bureau and cattlemen’s and hunting groups raised the specter of people going to prison for branding cattle, penning hogs or trapping wild animals.

It was all nonsense. No one was being prosecuted for such things anywhere in the land, but people will believe anything in a television ad.

After Governor Beebe said he wanted to see a bill passed this session, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel went to work to craft legislation that the Farm Bureau and other opponents could support. The bill went through more than 40 drafts as he negotiated every line and comma with all the distrustful interests. In the end, the Farm Bureau announced its support for the bill.

Animal cruelty will be a Class D felony with a maximum fine of $10,000 and up to six years in jail for examples of extreme and systematic mistreatment of animals. A person can be charged with aggravated animal cruelty on first offense when it is committed against a cat, dog or horse. In the past the Farm Bureau objected to felony charges for a first offense.

The law will give the state leverage against the puppy mills that cram dozens of dogs into tiny and filthy pens where they are subjected to malnutrition and disease. It is hard to believe that anyone would take pleasure in torturing animals, such as a woman’s dog that was skinned alive at Benton last year. A law with swift and strong punishment will act as a deterrent.

Arkansas can take its place among all the states that treat fellow creatures with respect. Thank you, General McDaniel, for getting it done.