By Wayne Pacelle
Mississippi is one of only four states in the nation that does not allow felony penalties for the worst abuses of dogs and cats. For years, animal protection advocates have worked to strengthen the state’s law against extreme animal cruelty, only to be stymied by agricultural interests that didn’t want it to happen.
Now, road-blocking has come to a merciful end. Yesterday, the Mississippi Senate passed a bill that would make egregious animal cruelty a felony on the second offense, following the lead of the House. This legislation, SB 2821, is a product of a compromise between animal advocates and agricultural leaders.
Specifically, the new leadership at the Mississippi Farm Bureau was willing to sit down with our Mississippi state director, Lydia Sattler, to hammer out a bill that both sides could agree on. We’re grateful to farm bureau president Randy Knight for his support of this measure, and the leadership he’s provided.
If the bill is signed by Gov. Haley Barbour, aggravated cruelty to dogs and cats will be punishable as a felony on the second offense. It will no longer be legal to leave dogs outside in the hot sun or freezing cold without adequate shelter. And pet rabbits and other animals will be protected from cruelty under the law for the first time in a decade.
Though the final bill is not as strong as its sponsor, staunch animal protector Sen. Bob Dearing, D-Natchez, would have liked, Dearing hopes to upgrade the law to a first-offense felony in the future. We’ll also be supporting efforts to increase protection for dogs kept by inhumane puppy mills and animal hoarders. Even under this bill, those who neglect multiple dogs in a hoarding or puppy mill case could only be charged with one count of animal cruelty, regardless of how many dogs are affected. Still, this measure is a major step, and we welcome it.
Strengthening Mississippi’s animal cruelty law strikes close to home for those of us at HSUS. Last March, we worked with law enforcement and other animal groups to remove more than 160 dogs and cats from awful conditions at a hoarding situation in Preston, Miss. One of the dogs removed from this abject misery was a terrified, blind Australian shepherd mix.
With loving care from the Tampa Bay SPCA and a foster family, this dog has come out of her shell and is ready to find a forever home. You can read an update about “Wonder” on our website.
Once this bill is signed by Gov. Barbour, Idaho, North Dakota, and South Dakota will be the only remaining states in the nation where there is nothing a person can do to an animal, no matter how depraved, that constitutes a felony offense. The HSUS is committed to working with our friends, supporters, and even our traditional adversaries in those states to ensure that communities – including people and animals – are protected from those capable of such gratuitous and senseless violence.