A Law with No “Teeth”

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In April of 2011, a new law went into effect in an attempt to protect dogs and cats from abuse, neglect, and outright cruelty in Mississippi. As is customary in our state’s history, Mississippi was one of the last states to legislate such deplorable behavior. Under Section 97-41-16 of our Mississippi Code, a third offense of cruelty to a domesticated dog or cat committed within five (5) years of the first offense is considered a felony. Upon conviction of a third offense, the defendant can be:
• fined $5,000 • imprisoned from one (1) to five (5) years • ordered to pay restitution to the owner of the dog or cat • ordered to undergo an evaluation by a psychologist or psychiatrist • ordered to complete community service • banned from any employment related to animals.

A first offense of animal cruelty is still considered a misdemeanor: $200-$1,000 fine and/or 30 days to six (6) months in jail. A second offense of animal cruelty committed within five (5) years of the first offense is also a misdemeanor: $400-$2,500 fine and/or 90 days to six (months) in jail.

This new “law” is the type of legislation that is passed for the sole purpose of “shutting people up” over a particular topic. This law does not protect animals from people. For years, advocates of animal rights have asked the state of Mississippi to join the rest of the nation by criminalizing animal cruelty to the extent that it may deter such conduct. Instead of passing a law that actually has “teeth to it” (pun intended), our legislature pandered to special interest groups that basically said, “We don’t support any animal cruelty bills, but if you’re going to pass a law, it can only apply to domesticated dogs and cats.” And the legislature folded like the cheap suits they were wearing at the time they passed the bill.

There is no logic or reason in the construction and application of this law.

Bear with me for just a moment…
In the early to mid-90’s special interest groups lobbied to have DUI laws enforced on a “graduated” scale in an effort to deter people from driving motor vehicles while impaired. The result is a system that considers the first and second offenses of DUI as misdemeanors. Not until the third DUI in a five (5) year period is the offense considered a felony.
People are not afraid of being convicted of a felony when they make the decision to drive while being impaired. They aren’t afraid because they know a felony conviction is not going to happen – unless it’s their third offense within five years. If it takes people three convictions in five years to understand the severity of their situation, then they have never seriously considered they have a problem. Graduated scales of punishment with DUI’s deter drunk driving as much as “no littering” signs deter people from throwing their cigarette butts out of the window while driving.

As a pet owner and a citizen of the state of Mississippi, I am offended by the silliness of this law. This new “law” passed off to the public as a protection for domesticated dogs and cats will be as effective at deterring animal cruelty as the graduated scale of punishment provided by our current DUI laws. Our legislature has had plenty of time to study the effectiveness of those laws and devise a successful plan to deter ridiculous behavior. Instead, they have decided to reinforce Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity by doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

Disclaimer: This blog is intended as general information purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Anyone with a legal problem should consult a lawyer immediately.

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