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Bill would toughen animal abuse penalties

BY CORIANNE EGAN cegan@paducahsun.com

On Monday morning, all that was left of Stoner, a pit bull mix, was a collar with an extension cord tied to it.

Stoner's owner, Kenneth Boyd, later told police he hung the dog from a tree in the backyard of his Sixth Street home because he couldn't afford to feed or care for Stoner any longer. There are two animal shelters within five miles - less than a 10-minute drive - of Boyd's house.

Stories of animal abuse are commonplace in Kentucky, which is ranked 43rd out of 50 states by the Humane Society of America when it comes to the strength of animal abuse regulations. In the Animal Legal Defense Fund's annual report, titled "Top Five States to be an Animal Abuser," Kentucky was No. 1 on the list in 2013.

"I see it all of the time, and a lot more than people realize," McCracken County Animal Control Director Chryss George said. "We see anything from neglect to lack of shelter or food to outright abusive situations. And every report we get we investigate to the fullest."

Kentucky's first-degree cruelty to animals charge is a Class D felony, but it specifically addresses animals forced to fight for entertainment. The state's second-degree cruelty to animals is a Class A misdemeanor, and addresses neglect or killing of animals outside of entertainment purposes. For Boyd, who was charged with second-degree cruelty to animals, that meant pleading guilty landed him in jail for one year. Some animal advocates say that is not enough.

"It's going to continue to happen until something changes," said Dee Robinson, a local animal advocate from Eddyville and head of Kentucky Citizens Against Animal Abuse. "This kind of act requires malice, forethought, premeditation. They should get long jail sentences, big fines and they shouldn't be allowed to own animals ever again. But that isn't the case."

Robinson was one of the most outspoken supporters of House Bill 409, which was introduced in the state Legislature last year but failed to make it out of committee. State Rep. Will Coursey, D-Benton, was the main sponsor of the bill this year. It was introduced in the House on Feb. 19 and the House Judiciary Committee on Feb. 20. There has been no movement on it since.

"Often times it takes a little time for good legislation to make it through the process," Coursey said. "This isn't unusual. I've had a number of bills that I have sponsored, and it takes a session or two for it to settle in and for folks to be able to wrap their heads around the issue."

The bill would amend several sections of the Kentucky Revised Statutes to give harsher penalties for animal abusers. It would classify as torture failing to provide minimum care for animals that results in a serious physical injury. It would also require anyone convicted to forfeit animals for three years. HB 409 would further allow animal control officers to take custody of an animal if there is evidence that showed the animal was in imminent danger.

The main goal is to make it harder for animal abusers to slip through the cracks.

"We've pushed so hard and there have been so many roadblocks," Robinson said. "You can't change the hearts and souls of bad people, but you can punish them and help to protect the good people who are trying to make a difference."

Coursey said his biggest frustration has been trying to get all of the parties interested in the bill - from the Kentucky League of Sportsmen, the Kentucky Houndsmen Association, the American Kennel Club and animal activists - into one room to discuss the bill. Nearly every animal abuse law in Kentucky has a paragraph added in excusing all hunting activities, but there has been plenty of opposition from sports and hunting groups.

"I want to get them all into a room so we can hammer out the bill's language and we can agree on something," Coursey said.

"The session is almost over, and it's unlikely that this bill will get passed at this point. But I still think it's a good thing. We are calling attention to the correlation between animal abuse and human abuse. Someone who would take a dog and crucify it, or tie it to a rear bumper and drag it down the road, that person is more likely to commit a more serious crime, like murder. And we have to do what we can to stop that."

Contact Corianne Egan, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8652 or follow @CoriEgan on Twitter.

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