Law would toughen animal abuse laws

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By Linda Ireland

Earlier this month, while most of LaRue County was focused on the 199th celebration of native son Abraham Lincoln's birth, animal ordinance officer Jill Gray journeyed to Frankfort to speak in favor of stricter laws for people who abuse animals.

As part of the "Humane Day Rally" in the capitol rotunda, Gray spoke in support of House Bill 77, which would require the offender to pay "reasonable and necessary maintenance expenses for care of animals involved in cruelty and torture cases."

"Taxpayers, through their county and city governments, have funded the nefarious activity of some of these [people] who torture animals or abuse animals," said Melvin Henley, D-Murray, co-sponsor of House Bill 77, in a televised interview. "I just thought that it was time that these [people] should be held financially responsible for their actions."

It would also require a court, upon petition, to conduct forfeiture hearing and, except for good cause, require a defendant to post surety for expenses related to animals care or forfeit animal.

"This allows the judge to put the financial burden of animal care on the defendant, not county governments," said Gray. "They would receive their money back if found not guilty."

Gray's interest in the bill peaked after her involvement in a recent court case in LaRue County. As part of her job, she assisted with the removal of 46 dogs from a Hodgenville couple accused of second-degree cruelty to animals and violation of other county ordinances last year.

A court order gave the officers permission to remove the dogs (37 pit bulls, one German Shepherd and eight puppies) from the property of William Scott Coy and Sandra Coy. The animals were housed at a shelter in Taylor County - at taxpayer expense - for four months. According to testimony, 11 of the Coys' dogs died in the kennel - some as a result of disease, others due to attack by other of their own dogs.

As part of a plea agreement, the Coys agreed to move outside LaRue County, and not keep or bring animals into the county for two years. They were not required to pay for veterinary care, boarding of and feeding the animals.

Gray said taxpayers footed the nearly $14,000 bill ($1,242 veterinarian charges, more than $10,000 in housing costs and $2,500 in staff and transportation costs). Prosecution of the case was deferred for two years if there are no future violations.

"If we had not had many donations of food, water and food bowls, flea treatments and other necessary items, the costs would have been even more," said Gray.

In all, the Coys were fined $602 in penalties and court costs, which must be paid by April 9.

Gray said the bill is a "great step in bringing Kentucky animal laws closer to where they need to be to protect God's creatures."

"Our existing dog laws are so vague that it leaves a lot to interpretation of individual judges and requires the prosecution to supply such a burden of proof that it costs counties significantly to investigate and prosecute the defendants and care for the animals in question until final decisions are determined," said Gray. "In many cases what's best for the animals is not evident in the decisions, but is decided based on what can be proven or the best 'deal' that can be agreed to by all parties."

House Bill 77 is only one of seven proposed laws to penalize people who abuse animals.

House Bill 145, better known as "Romeo's Law" and filed by Stan Lee, R-Lexington, is drawing a lot of attention across the state as well.

Romeo is a yellow Labrador that was abused by his owner, Ronald Shawn Turner, in Pulaski County. The abuse was caught on videotape and received wide play. Turner was convicted and gave up rights to the dog. But he wasn't required to do so.

If Romeo's Law passes, people who commit certain kinds of abuse would face a felony charge and one to five years in prison, possibly on a first time offense.

Romeo and his new owner also attended the Humane Day Rally.

More legislation

Other animal rights bills being batted around Frankfort this session include:

SB 15 - Expands the cruelty statutes to include all animals in abandonment and abuse cases as well as increase the penalty for killing or injuring them.

HB 42 - Prohibits anyone who is convicted of cruelty and torture to own or possess the same species for two years.

HB 39 - Requires all animals who are adopted from shelters, humane societies, etc. to be spayed or neutered before they go home with their new owners.

HB 375 - Requires individuals to provide dogs with proper doghouses and shade to protect them from excessive cold and heat.

HB 329 - Allows a licensed veterinary technician to work under "indirect supervision" of a licensed veterinarian; this will assist animal shelters with vet techs to provide care in emergency situations.

- Linda Ireland is editor of The LaRue Herald News, Hodgenville.