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Animal abuse: Punishment should fit the crime

Published August 23, 2007 9:13 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2007, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Henry turned on the charm at the state Capitol on Wednesday. He licked boots, wagged his tail, batted his one good eye. But legislators were unmoved, declining to vote on "Henry's Law," which would make the torture of animals a felony offense punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

The tiny, black, cute and cuddly terrier-Chihuahua mix is the poster puppy for animal cruelty in Utah, one of just seven states where animal torture is a misdemeanor instead of a felony.

If dogs could talk, Henry could give compelling testimony in favor of a change. He was chased through the yard, blinded by a leaf blower, shoved in an oven and roasted for five minutes at 200 degrees last year. He lost an eye. He suffered serious burns. His toes were fused together.

Most people would agree that what happened to Henry was a felonious assault, and that his attacker is one sick puppy deserving of a long stay in the people pound. Most people, that is, outside the Utah Legislature.

Animal lovers have been trying to put some teeth in Utah's law since the mid-1990s, without success. They argue that people who are a danger to animals are also a danger to humans. Serial killers like Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer and David "Son of Sam" Berkowitz got their start abusing innocent animals. And research at Utah State, Northwestern and other universities links animal abuse to domestic violence.

But the Legislature has refused to be swayed. On five occasions since 1995, lawmakers have beaten back attempts to make animal torture a felony. Some argue that the law would give ammunition to animal-rights activists in their battle with agricultural interests. Others say the penalties are too severe.

But Henry's Law is carefully crafted to appease rural lawmakers by making farm, ranch, zoo, hunting and rodeo animals exempt from the law. And animal lovers would argue that the penalties aren't stiff enough.

Legislators say they'll dust off the bill next year for another round of debate. Utahns should demand less talk and more action. Henry shouldn't have to sit up and beg.