Iowa bill would mean harsher penalties for harming animals - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Iowa bill would mean harsher penalties for harming animals

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Iowa lawmakers are attempting to crack down on people charged with harming animals in the state with a bill aimed at increasing punishments.

The bill, SF 2181, was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee and will now head to the Senate floor for debate.

According to the Animal Legal Defense League, Iowa ranks as one of the worst states in animal protection laws. In fact, it says only one state in the country is worse than Iowa, and that's Kentucky.

In the past year, eastern Iowa has seen a number of examples of cases, from animal neglect to abuse.

This week, Waterloo police charged the owners of a pit bull with animal neglect after it was found nearly frozen to death.  And, in November, a dog was found nearly starved to death after its owner abandoned it. The dog died shortly after it was rescued.

In the past month, Vinton officials have been busy dealing with a case where 700 animals from rabbits to snakes had to be rescued from one home. 

It's stories like those that animal shelter workers will say they see too often.

"Way too many times. We have another one right now waiting for the court process. It just tears your heart out every time," Jill Syring, President of Friends of the Animals shelter in Tipton.

On February 14, 2017, Syring and other workers jumped into action to help a dog that was left near their dumpster. The workers named her Hope. She was badly neglected, starved, and covered in feces. Hope died later that night.

Mixed feelings came from the charges the owners received, but Tipton police said they did all that they could legally do.

"Right now, you get a slap on the hand and that's about it," Syring said about Iowa animal laws.

Under SF 2181, in cases of animal abuse or neglect; if a serious injury or death doesn't occur, it is a serious misdemeanor. In the case of death or a serious injury, it would upgraded to an aggravated misdemeanor. If an individual has previously been convicted of the charge, the second time would be be considered a class "D" felony.

In the bill, there would be a new section under abandonment. Its charges would follow the same model as with abuse or neglect.

The bill would also include a new criminal offense of endangerment, such as leaving an animal in a hot or cold car. It, too, follows the same criminal model.

Under the category of torture, instead of a first charge being an aggravated misdemeanor, it would be a class "D" felony. A repeat of that crime would land someone with a class "C" felony.

Changes would also be under court orders. A person may be subject to a court order that requires a psychological or psychiatric evaluation and treatment. They may also be prohibited from owning, possessing, or living with an animal. That prohibition would be mandatory for aggravated misdemeanor or a felony.

For the lesser charges, the prohibition period would be no shorter than three years. For an aggravated misdemeanor or felony, it would be at least ten years.

Syring said the bill is a good start, but she also supports harsher penalties.

"We'll take any improvements we can," she said. "Anything would help. It's a start. We get more jail time then, hopefully, we'll see a reduction in it."

If the bill passes, it will allow law enforcement and animal control officers to break into a vehicle to rescue a struggling animal.

SF 2181 would only apply to mistreatment of animals now considered livestock or wild.

A related bill, HSB 608, has been approved by a subcommittee in the Iowa House. 

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