For years, animal advocacy groups pushed state lawmakers to strengthen animal cruelty laws in the state. But during that same time, other groups fought proposed legislation because they were concerned the laws could be used against farmers for common practices.
The result was a relaxed animal cruelty law that afforded prosecutors a misdemeanor charge for those responsible for horrible acts of cruelty toward an animal. We’re not talking about "putting down" a sick or badly injured horse. As unfortunate as it is, that’s common practice in the South, where farming and ranching is still a way of life for many.
But slapping someone on the wrist with a $1,000 fine and maybe a year in the county jail for torturing a dog or mutilating kittens or dragging a helpless horse from the back of a truck was a reality. And something had to be done.
Last year lawmakers passed legislation that makes certain instances of cruelty toward dogs, cats and horses a felony.
It was long overdue. Arkansas was but one of a few states that didn’t have a first offense felony charge for aggravated animal cruelty.
Now, it’s likely that a prosecutor in Faulkner County will put that law to the test.
A Conway man has been charged with felony aggravated animal cruelty for allegedly beating a dog on multiple occasions. The vet who treated the dog said it had a concussion with a severe upper jaw fracture along with a bruised and swollen eye and a bruised abdomen. Witnesses reported hearing the dog yelp and "cry" on several occasions.
It’s important to note that the man charged in this incident hasn’t had his day in court, and it’s up to the court system, not us, to determine whether he is guilty or not.
But another Arkansas man has had his day in court on charges of the newly-revised law.
Last year, a jury found a Drew County man not guilty of the felony charge after he beat a small pony to death with a baseball bat. He had been instructed by the animal’s owner to "put it down" because it had sustained injuries from an animal attack. The owner suggested that she meant for him to put the animal down humanely.
As difficult as it is to accept that there are humane ways to "put down" sick or injured animals, blunt force head trauma caused by a baseball bat isn’t an acceptable method.
And it should not be tolerated.
Someone mentioned to us that while the law in this state may have changed, apparently some of our state’s residents’ attitudes haven’t.
Sadly, that appears to be the case.
Lawmakers and advocates fought long and hard to strengthen animal cruelty laws. But the new law is of little consequence if we don’t apply it and enforce it when it’s necessary.