A State Senate bill filed by Minority Leader Bruce Tarr of Gloucester would beef up criminal penalties and create new safeguards against those who commit what Tarr called “horrendous acts of abuse” against animals.
And the Senate Republican Caucus is calling on colleagues in both branches of the Legislature to make the bill a bicameral, bipartisan effort.
“Our laws are woefully outdated regarding the subject of punishing those who abuse animals,” Tarr said in introducing the bill. “As a society, we need to stand up against those who would inflict pain so ruthlessly and coldheartedly and tell them these actions cannot and will not be tolerated.”
The bill comes on the heels of a grisly finding in Quincy six weeks ago, when “Puppy Doe” was euthanized after she had been discovered in a city park suffering from long-term, irreversible damage to her body. The dog’s injuries included a stab wound to her eye; the splitting of her tongue to look like a serpent; dislocated shoulder, elbow, wrist and ankle; and indications that she had been burned and starved.
It also comes less than a year after a Gloucester man — with a record of past animal abuse, according to police — essentially gutted his pet pit bull Xena after the dog had ingested the man’s heroin at his Prospect Street home.
In that case, John “Jack” Dugan, then 27, was charged with animal cruelty for cutting open and then discarding the dog in an alleged effort to retrieve a package of heroin the dog had eaten.
Dugan has been held in Middleton jail since his initial bail was withdrawn after a probation arrest in March. But his case, which has drawn the attention of animal rights activists across the nation, and has attracted protesters to the Gloucester and Salem courts where hearings have been held, has been delayed at least three times and remains pending in Salem Superior Court.
The new legislation, which is titled “An Act Protecting Animal Welfare and Safety” — or the “PAWS Act” — would raise fines and penalties and creates an animal abuse registry. Highlights of the bill include:
Establishing an anonymous animal abuse tip hotline;
Expanding the use of the state’s Homeless Animal Prevention and Care Fund to include the rehabilitation and care of abused animals, and increasing the size of the board that administers the fund to include a special state police officer from an animal humane organization and a member of local law enforcement;
Imposing a fine of up to $1,000 on any veterinarian who knowingly and willfully fails to report a suspected act of cruelty to an animal;
Increasing the penalties associated with cruelty to animals, or maliciously killing, maiming, disfiguring or exposing them to poison from $2,500 to between $2,500 and $10,000. Current animal protection laws also include imprisonment in the state prison for not more than five years or imprisonment in a House of Correction for up to 21/2 years;
Increasing the penalties for a second or subsequent offense from 5 to 10 years in state prison and a fine between $5,000 to $20,000;
Increasing the penalty for a hit-and-run conviction on a cat or dog from a $50 fine to up to $2,000 fine and/or up to 60 days in a house of corrections;
Creating a statewide registry of convicted individuals of animal abuse crimes, and requiring all animal shelters, pet stores or animal breeders to check the registry prior to offering, selling, delivering, or giving an animal to any individual; and
Creating a nine-member commission to review the state’s animal cruelty laws, many of which date back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Tarr’s GOP Senate allies quickly jumped on board the measure last week.
“Abusing or torturing an animal is a heinous crime, and those who commit these crimes need to be held responsible for their actions,” said Sen. Robert Hedlund, R-Weymouth. “As a state and as a society, we need to ensure our laws are designed to adequately punish those who choose to abuse animals.”
“This long-overdue legislation will provide vital updates to the commonwealth’s animal cruelty laws,” said Sen. Richard Ross, who holds the Wrentham-based state Senate seat once held by ex-U.S. Sen. Scott Brown. “It is imperative that we take a stand to protect all those living in the commonwealth. By sending the message that these atrocious examples of abuse will not be stood for, we are reinforcing the safety of our communities as a whole.”
The bill also includes a key provision from a House bill sponsored by Rep. Linda Dean Campbell, D-Methuen, that allows district attorneys to file a petition to the courts ordering a defendant to post a security or bond for the care of animals that have been impounded as a result of abuse or cruelty.
“Sadly, many of the animals seized by the MSPCA and other humane organizations require extensive rehabilitation and sometimes a lifetime of treatment, which can become extremely costly,” said Campbell. “I am thankful to Sen. Tarr and his caucus for working so diligently to offer this legislative measure, and it is my hope that as a legislature we can pass this commonsense bill expeditiously.”