Bipartisan legislation looks to crack down on animal abuse

Penalties for animal cruelty in Michigan might soon become harsher. Bipartisan legislation is currently making its way through Lansing.

Senate Bill 285, authored by Steven Bieda, and Senate Bill 286, authored by Rick Jones, were approved unanimously in the state Senate last November and now await scheduling for a vote in the state House of Representatives.

“The Senate bills appear to be a codification of the animal abuse statutes, which the legislature’s been doing a lot of lately with various crimes, making first degree, second degree, third degree types of offenses,” Marquette County Prosecuting Attorney Matt Wiese said. “Basically, they’ve added enhancements. There’s basic misdemeanor type of animal abuse or neglect, or cruelty, and that gets enhanced based upon the number of animals or based upon prior convictions, up to a four-year, seven-year or 10-year felony.”

The bills also adjust the sentencing guidelines judges follow to account for the new penalties. A first-offense cruelty charge with one animal is currently a misdemeanor. That would be increased to a felony charge, with an increased jail sentence if the suspect had priors or if more than one animal was involved.

“They draw a distinction between two or three animals, so that would raise it up to a year,” Wiese said. “If it’s four to nine animals, that would make it a two-year [sentence]; if it’s 10 or more animals it would make it four years; if it’s more than 25 animals, it would make it a seven-year [sentence].”

Aiding the prosecution in animal abuse cases, animal shelters like UPAWS house and rehabilitate abused animals like Buddy Holly, who was found in the snow on Christmas with a broken leg.

“When an abused or neglected animal arrives at UPAWS, we definitely attend to any medical needs, especially urgent medical needs,” UPAWS shelter manager Lareina VanStrien said. “And then a lot of times, we have to take time to help them recover emotionally and physically, so we will use foster homes and we’ll use medical funds and we use a lot of the local vets to help us get through that initial period with the animal.”

Although shelters play a small role in the prosecuting process, they see how the animals are affected physically and emotionally due to abuse.

“I think it’s really important that these bills get looked at seriously,” VanStrien said. “Animals play a vital role in our culture; they’re very important to us and I think if we don’t recognize that it’s a little bit of a shame on us.”

While there’s no telling if these enhanced penalties would deter would–be abusers from committing their crime the legislature is important nonetheless.

“I think it’s really important that the community recognize that this is a serious crime, and I do appreciate all the community support we have on these types of crimes,” Wiese said. “I think it’s important that we delineate and define what behaviors should equal what type of crime, and I think this legislation is good in that it makes enhancements, or makes repeat offenders, or multiple animals that are being abused or neglected. It makes the penalties more severe.”