Colorado Combats Animal Cruelty

Kristin Jones

Every year, more than 10 million animals die from abuse in the United States alone. Unfortunately, not all animal abuse cases are reported. Therefore, in reality, this number is likely over 100 million. In addition, of these likely 100 million cases of animal abuse, only a fraction of the offenders are actually prosecuted. This disparity means something needs to change in terms of animal abuse prosecution, and there must be stricter laws to protect these animals from further abuse.

In an attempt to fight against animal cruelty, Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed House Bill 19-1092, also known as Animal Ban For Cruelty to Animals Conviction, which concerns a prohibition on the future ownership of an animal for persons convicted of animal cruelty. The bill prohibits those convicted of aggravated cruelty to animals from owning, possessing, or caring for a pet animal for upwards of five years from the date of their conviction. The bill also allows judges to sentence offenders to complete an anger management program, mental health treatment program, or any other appropriate treatment program designed to address the underlying causative factors for the violation. This aspect of the bill is particularly valuable as some acts of animal cruelty, such as animal hoarding, are strongly linked to mental illness and can respond to treatment. Thus, without treatment, the abuser will likely repeat the behavior.

To date, most states do not have mandatory requirements prohibiting convicted animal abusers from owning or possessing animals. Twenty-one states have permissive possession bans (Alabama, Alaska, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming), which means the court decides whether the defendant should be prohibited from owning or possessing animals. Seventeen states have mandatory possession bans (California, Colorado, Delaware, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington, and West Virginia) requiring courts to prohibit ownership for a designated period of time. It is crucial for the latter number to increase as possession bans are one of the most effective ways to prevent repeat offenses. These bans restrict the abuser’s access to animals, limiting their pool of potential victims.

 

Although Colorado’s bill is a great start to keep animals out of the hands of their abusers, there is still significant room for improvement. For example, the prohibition period of three to five years is such a trivial amount of time to forbid an animal abuser from owning a pet. A child abuser can be permanently stripped of their parental rights, but in three to five years, an animal abuser can once again own the very thing that was their victim. Without proof of rehabilitation, who says that the offender will not simply repeat what they have done in the past. Convicted abusers should never be allowed to own an animal again, or they must prove that they have been rehabilitated in order to own one in the future. In addition, the law will be enforced like a restraining order, which would rely on a report that the offender is in possession of an animal or a routine check revealing such. The problem with this is that since courts simply treat this as a violation of a court order, it is often unenforceable.

Other flaws of the bill include the fact that it only protects “pet animals.” This is problematic because about 97% of all abused and killed animals yearly are farm animals. These animals are simply seen as part of business and, as a result, are drugged and confined only to produce more milk and eggs, breed more offspring, and die. Thus, the bill’s limited protection of only “pet animal” leaves those who are most subject to abuse vulnerable to repeated mistreatment by their offender. The bill also does not require the prohibition of animal ownership for those convicted of misdemeanor animal cruelty. This means that it is up to the judge’s discretion on whether or not to forbid the ownership of animals for misdemeanor offenses. Although it does still allow for the prohibition of ownership, required bans would be more effective in keeping animals away from their abusers.

Though there is room for improvement, this is a great start in the fight against animal cruelty as it holds those people responsible for animal abuse accountable for their actions. Other states should follow in Colorado’s footsteps to begin strengthening their law punishing animal abusers.

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