Toughening Animal Cruelty Laws

Susan Page
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Wednesday - May 09, 2007
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He crows at 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 a.m., but I’m still rooting for the rooster that moved into our lower yard. When it comes to my sleep, its shrill “cock-a-doodle-do” is a “cock-a-doodle-don’t,” but I’m happy he’s a free-range rooster, a grateful escapee from a cockfighter’s cage. I call him “Kimble,” as in Dr. Richard Kimble of The Fugitive.

At this writing, our state legislators are deliberating on whether to raise the penalty for extreme cruelty to animals from a misdemeanor to a felony (Senate Bill 1665 HDI). What the definition of “extreme” is and which animals are covered have them in a dither. It seems acts of intentional cruelty, such as mutilation, setting an animal on fire, or starving one are considered felonies in the vast majority of states, but not in ours.

I think our politicians have mad cow disease.

Certainly details of any law need to be fleshed out, but extreme cruelty to innocent animals is debatable? We’re not in the third world anymore, Dorothy. Cruelty is cruelty. Humane is humane.

Hawaii is only one of eight states (the Dakotas, Alaska, Arkansas, Mississippi, Utah and Idaho) that don’t consider cruelty to animals a felony. Forty-two states have comprehensive laws that can serve as models. The humane society also has sane prescriptives for creating good anti-cruelty law. It should:

* Apply to all animals.

* Apply to first-time offenders.

* Have large fines and lengthy prison time as penalties.

* Have no exemptions.

* Allow or require convicted abusers to get counseling at their own expense.

* Prohibit abusers from possessing animals or living where animals are present.

The protection of illegal cock-fighters has been a joke here for years. Those who force roosters to fight to the death employ a formidable lobby and many feel - as do I - that their advocates keep stricter animal cruelty laws from ever being passed by having lawmakers include silly addons - such as making the use of rat traps illegal - to quash the bill.

Most states consider dog-fighting (a felony here) and cockfighting (a misdemeanor) illegal. But in Hawaii you can own fighting cocks and the paraphernalia - razor-sharp knives known as “slashers” and ice pick-like gaffs - attached to the legs of birds to make cockfights more violent (sold on the Internet). And, it’s legal to be a spectator at both dog and cock fights here.

Cockfighters are secretive and move locations, and police have to catch offenders in the act of fighting their birds, then prove ownership for the arrest. So, the majority of states are making fight attendance illegal.

And federal legislation - the Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act (HR 137) - ups the penalty to felony-level jail time for existing law violators. It defines dogfighting and cock-fighting as “inhumane and barbaric activities.” It says, “In a typical fight, animals are drugged to heighten their aggression and forced to keep fighting even after injuries such as pierced lungs and gouged eyes - all for the amusement and illegal wagering of handlers and spectators. Dogfighting and cockfighting are also associated with other criminal conduct, such as drug trafficking, illegal firearms use, and violence toward people. Children are often present at these spectacles. ...”

One lawmaker and opponent of Hawaii’s bill, Alex Sonson, (D) District 35, thinks stiffer penalties for animal cruelty might somehow put torturing and neglecting animals on par with abusing children. That has to be the lamest argument - red herring - of all. These are two different issues, but, since he brought it up, child abuse law should be made tougher, too. Psychologists verify that people who are cruel to animals often physically abuse humans, too.

Legal language and definitions are needed for sound law, but stiffening laws to protect both pets and wild animals from cruelty is a nobrainer. We all know what abuse and neglect mean. Really.

This hypocritical Legislature treats a microscopic single cell sea creature, an endangered weed, and cockfighters better than it treats people who smoke cigarettes. How is it that cats, dogs, roosters, pot-bellied pigs and horses get so little protection from them?

It says a lot about our priorities, our Aloha, and a lot about whom we elect and who keeps them in office.

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