New legislation makes animal abuse a felony

For at least some forms of animal cruelty.

a sad droopy dog
A big step in preventing abuse.DepositPhotos

On Monday night President Trump made animal cruelty a federal crime. The Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act makes intentional crushing, burning, drowning, suffocating, and other forms of abuse toward “living non-human mammals, birds, reptiles, or amphibians” punishable by up to seven years in prison. The bill does not apply to those who keep and slaughter animals for food or to those who hunt, trap, and fish.

While all 50 states previously enacted laws that include felony provisions for animal cruelty cases, the new bill is still important for the enforcement of animal rights. It allows prosecutors and federal law enforcement to address animal abuse cases that cross state lines as well as prosecute animal torture cases that occur on federal property. The law may also funnel additional resources towards investigating animal welfare.

“With today’s act, we take the critical step toward being more responsible stewards of our planet, and all who we want to cherish and take care of,” said Trump at the bill signing ceremony.

Two Florida lawmakers, Republican Representative Vern Buchanan and Democrat Representative Ted Deutch, introduced the bill, which has seen overwhelming bipartisan support. In October, the House unanimously passed the PACT Act and a month later the Senate followed suit.

“While Congress is gridlocked on many issues, there is one issue of consensus: that animals deserve protection from malicious abuse,” said Holly Gann, Director of federal affairs at the Animal Wellness Foundation, a Los Angeles based private charity. “The PACT Act lays a strong foundation to better protect some of the most vulnerable among us.”

In addition to Congressional support, the bill was endorsed by law enforcement agencies across the country including the National Law Enforcement Council and the Fraternal Order of Police. They hope prosecuting those who commit animal abuse acts will reduce violence against humans, as crime statistics have linked the two. A 2008 study found that 40 percent of those charged with animal abuse were later rearrested for the assault of a person.

Animal cruelty caught national attention in the late 1990s after the Humane Society of the United States began investigating “crush videos.” These videos featured animals being tortured and killed—typically beneath a woman’s foot—as part of a sexual fetish. The government made the production and sale of such videos a federal crime in 1999, but in 2010 the Supreme Court ruled the law unconstitutional, citing the First Amendment.

Following the Supreme Court’s decision, President Obama signed the Animal Crush Video Prohibition Act. The act made the recording, uploading, and distribution of animal cruelty videos a crime, but did not punish the actual act of cruelty. The purpose of the PACT act is to fill the gaps in the 2010 law.

“PACT makes a statement about American values,” said Kitty Block, the president and CEO of the Humane Society in a press release. “Animals are deserving of protection at the highest level.”