Voting has been delayed on a set of bills in the Michigan State Senate that would alter the existing legislation for criminal penalties in cases of animal cruelty and neglect. The bills would create three different degrees of killing or torturing an animal, which would increase the maximum prison terms for first- and second-degree offenses. The legislation would also make it easier to prosecute breeders and pet-shop operators who are repeat offenders, and to monitor cases of animal neglect and cruelty that include large numbers of animals. These amendments are nuanced and work to protect animals and create safer communities in general, and as such should be passed and enacted as soon as possible.

Currently, under the Michigan Penal Code, all cases of animal killing and torture are classified under the same offense and are subject to a four-year felony charge. These bills would create first, second and third degrees of animal killing and torturing. Also, those accused of killing or torturing an animal, or threatening to do so to exert control over a person, would be subject to a 10-year felony charge. The amendments would create a penalty for breeders and pet shops that have incurred five or more prior convictions and introduce a mandatory minimum of five years of probation for cases of animal neglect or cruelty that involve 25 or more animals, among other things.

Researchers have found that threatened or perpetrated animal abuse or killing is common in abusive relationships, with around 71 percent of women with pet-ownership histories entering domestic violence shelters reporting that their abusive partner had threatened or committed violence against their pet. These amendments would address this problem and protect victims of abusive relationships by imposing harsher punishments for this emotional abuse and manipulation. Moreover, studies have indicated a link between animal cruelty and other forms of violence. Therefore, taking animal abuse more seriously could, through rehabilitation, help prevent other violent crimes.

These bills would also help create safer communities by imposing a minimum five-year probation for large-scale animal neglect. This change, at the discretion of the judge, would enable animal hoarders to be put on mental health watch and potentially allow for mental health treatment. This solution would be effective, considering animal neglect as the result of animal hoarding is often unintentional, and is indicative of a problem that will not go away without treatment. Codified understanding of the mental components at play in situations of animal neglect, however, should be extended to other areas of the law.

Lastly, these bills work to protect valued, yet vulnerable members of society — pets. Violence toward these animals can be viewed as damaging to families and communities. The tiered system of punishment for killing and torturing these animals is logical, as it reflects how penal codes deal with other instances of violent crime. Blanket treatment of violent crimes, and therefore of animal abuse, fails to consider the range and complexity of these crimes, creating disparities in the severity of its punishment. Furthermore, a four-year felony charge is simply not enough to deal with the crime of animal torture and killing, especially considering that this charge doesn’t always result in prison time. Since many non-violent crimes, such as drug use, result in more jail time, it is fitting that these violent crimes should be taken more seriously. These amendments would help to create a criminal justice system that results in punishment more fitting to the crime committed.

The existing legislation regarding animal cruelty needs change, and these bills offer balanced amendments that consider the complexities of animal abuse and neglect. If Michigan wants to treat animal cruelty seriously, the passage of these bills should be a priority.

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