Olympia, WA – You’d think a proposed law involving pets trapped in hot cars or animal fighting would sail right through the legislative process. But it was a long uphill climb for animal control officers and prosecutors hoping to get tough on animal abusers in Washington state.
The Prevention to Animal Cruelty bill, SSB5501, put together by the Washington Federation of Animal Care and Control Agencies, passed from the Senate to the floor and back again, with substitute bills, amendments, heated debates and passionate testimonies prodding it all along.
After months of persuading lawmakers their bill had merit, efforts culminated in a quiet but endearing triumph Monday, May 11. In the presence of law enforcement officers, animal advocates, and a smiling little dog named Waffles held by the bill’s primary sponsor, Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn, Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law stronger animal-cruelty protections for our state’s animals.
Missing from the equation are animals used in agricultural or farming practices, those used in entertainment such as rodeos or fairs, and animals used in research experiments in scientific labs. However the governor did veto a last minute addition by Rep. Brad Klippert, R-Kennewick, that would have killed current legal protections for abused or neglected animals owned by backyard breeders and hobbyists.
The bill does 4 things
1. Modifies the definition of animal cruelty in the first degree to include intentionally killing or causing substantial pain or injury to an animal while manifesting an extreme indifference to life.
“This dog was being methodically beaten and assaulted by these children in Lacey. It was caught on tape and it was very, very brutal. The mother stood by and watched. I requested felony charges be placed on her. She plead down to cruelty in the second degree. She got diversion and a year probation. The dog would’ve died in their care. Because she wasn’t convicted of a felony they can have dogs again in a year after the probation is over.” – Officer Erika Johnson
2. Prohibits unsafe confinement of animals by specifying the conditions under which officers may remove animals confined in extreme temperatures; limits officers’ liability for property damage when damage results from authorized removal of animals: and creates a Class 2 civil infraction penalty punishable by a fine of up to $125 fine and statutory assessments.
3. Prohibits anyone from causing a minor to participate in organized animal fighting activities, while broadening protection to prohibit organized fights between any animals, not just between dogs and between male chickens.
4. Increases penalties for taking and concealing pet animals, or willfully or recklessly killing or injuring a pet animal. The fine is raised from $250 to $750 for theft of an animal.
Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn ardently voiced her opposition to the bill and referenced acceptable practices at rodeos several times as examples.
Posing a question to Cheri Scandalis from the nonprofit organization Higher Ground Animal Sanctuary in Mead, Wash., she asked:
In your mind is it cruel to an animal to have a 200 lb. man jump off a horse … first of all … send out a lasso, pull it back, yank a calf to the ground so its got its neck all broken down, the animals now on the ground. A big man comes out and jumps on it, wraps its legs up, goes like this. Is that animal cruelty in your mind?
Sen. Roach: “Thank you. That’s all I wanted to know.”
Of primary concern to Sen. Roach was the broadness of the bill. “The issue of subjectivity I think is important to this bill. It’s so broad it brings in a lot of things.”
Why is this bill necessary?
Animal protection organizations stretched too thin need help from stronger laws. In the words of Scandalis:
Everyday I wake up and I hit the floor running. We take care of as many as 70 animals, some at the animal sanctuary, many in foster care, and all the while fielding calls for pleas for animals that are in need. A lot of times I say “Yes,” and I don’t know how I’m going to gather up the resources to help them, but somehow everything comes together. And my realization is I can work for the rest of my life and they can throw my entire body onto a heap. And I’m not going to make a difference, and I’m not going to make a dent to all the problems we have in animal cruelty unless we are backed up with humane education and strong legislation.
One of the bill’s sponsors, Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle spoke in favor of the bill:
“Animals, especially pets including cats and others besides dogs and chickens, are knowledgeable that they have unconditional love for the people in their lives. They’re loving, they’re totally loyal, and it breaks my heart when I hear about damage that’s been inflicted on animals. I strongly support this bill.”
After passing the Senate in its original form, after substitute versions that could have profoundly affected the current animal cruelty statute were rejected, the bill hit another bump in the road on the House floor.
Klippert asked for clarification ” … being a cattle producer and a person involved in professional rodeo, how would this amendment effect my cattle production and rodeos in Washington state as it compared to the bill we heard in committee?” He proposed several amendments detrimental to the effectiveness of the bill’s intentions. All of them failed except Section 7 regarding the noncommercial raising or slaughtering of livestock or poultry. In a statement prepared by the Washington Alliance for Humane Legislation this had the potential to undermine current law:
Animal control officers encounter abuse and neglect of animals every day. It is common to find horses, cattle, rabbits, sheep, pigs, goats, and other livestock and poultry in conditions of squalor, starving, without water, and with untreated, serious medical conditions.
Under current law, animal control officers can address these conditions by working with the owner of these animals and as necessary, using enforcement tools under Chapter 16.52 RCW to end the abuse.
If section 7 of SB 5501 becomes law, the authority to address serious crimes against these animals will be made difficult or impossible.
Inslee was persuaded. On May 11 he signed the bill into law, vetoing Klippert’s Section 7 amendment, keeping it true to its original version written by the Washington Federation of Animal Care and Control Agencies.
How your legislator voted
On final passage as amended by the House on May 14, 2015
Yeas: 59, Nays: 38, Absent: 0, Excused: 1
Voting Yea: Representative Appleton, Bergquist, Blake, Caldier, Carlyle, Clibborn, Cody, Dunshee, Farrell, Fey, Fitzgibbon, Goodman, Gregerson, Gregory, Hansen, Hudgins, S. Hunt, Hunter, Hurst, Jinkins, Kagi, Kilduff, Kirby, Kochmar, Lytton, McCabe, Moeller, Morris, Moscoso, Muri, Ormsby, Ortiz-Self, Orwall, Peterson, Pettigrew, Pike, Pollet, Reykdal, Riccelli, Robinson, Ryu, Santos, Sawyer, Sells, Senn, Springer, Stambaugh, Stanford, Stokesbary, Sullivan, Takko, Tarleton, Tharinger, Van De Wege, Walkinshaw, Wilcox, Wylie, Zeiger, Mr. Speaker
Voting Nay: Representative Buys, Chandler, Condotta, DeBolt, Dent, Fagan, Griffey, Haler, Hargrove, Harmsworth, Harris, Hawkins, Hayes, Holy, G. Hunt, Johnson, Klippert, Kretz, Kristiansen, MacEwen, Magendanz, Manweller, McCaslin, Nealey, Orcutt, Parker, Rodne, Schmick, Scott, Shea, Short, Smith, Taylor, Van Werven, Vick, Walsh, Wilson, Young. Absent: Excused: Representative McBride
On final passage as amended by the House on May 16, 2015
Yeas: 47, Nays: 0, Absent: 0, Excused: 2
Voting Yea: Senator Angel, Bailey, Baumgartner, Becker, Benton, Billig, Braun, Brown, Chase, Cleveland, Conway, Dammeier, Dansel, Darneille, Ericksen, Fain, Fraser, Frockt, Habib, Hargrove, Hasegawa, Hatfield, Hewitt, Hill, Honeyford, Jayapal, Keiser, King, Kohl-Welles, Liias, Litzow, McAuliffe, McCoy, Miloscia, Mullet, Nelson, O’Ban, Padden, Parlette, Pearson, Pedersen, Ranker, Rivers, Roach, Rolfes, Schoesler, Sheldon
Voting Nay: Absent:Excused: Senator Hobbs, Warnick