We can all agree that animal abusers should pay a price for their negligence and cruelty.
But in determining how much of a penalty they should pay, wouldn't it be great if we could hear from the actual animal victim?
Of course we can't, but what if someone could stand in for the abused animal and speak for them, much as legal guardians do for children in family court?
In Illinois, some lawmakers are contemplating a bill that would do just that. Sponsored by Rep. Allen Skillicorn, the bill would allow lawyers, paralegals, and experts on animal abuse to serve as advocates for dogs and cats. The bill would provide harsher penalties for abusers, who often get off with little or no punishment.
The bill follows the lead of a law that was passed in Connecticut in 2016, the first of its kind. Desmond's Law, named after a boxer/pit bull that was beaten and killed, allows qualified volunteer lawyers and law students to investigate abuse cases involving dogs and cats and provide information that may not be readily available to the court.
Several other states, including Maine and Florida, are considering similar animal-advocacy bills along with Illinois. Local jurisdictions have taken steps to provide greater legal representation for animals as well. The Onondaga County Bar Association, for instance, has launched a Volunteer Advocate Lawyer for Animal Abuse Court. Volunteer lawyers serve as "animal law guardians" who monitor the health of animals and assess ownership issues when an abuse case is pending.
According to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, these "courtroom animal advocate programs," or CAAPs, don't create any new criminal violations or penalties; they work within states' existing animal-cruelty statutes as an investigative option for prosecutors and judges.
They're part of an apparent trend toward providing animals greater protection in court proceedings. Several states now have laws that allow judges to take animals' best interests into account during divorce proceedings instead of just assessing them as property.
In November 2019, the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act went into effect, the first time animal cruelty became a federal crime. Although every state has laws against animal cruelty, the new law better enables prosecutors to pursue cases that cross state lines.
Also, the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 2016 began collecting data on animal cruelty crimes, classifying them as serious felonies. The move is seen as providing an incentive for prosecutors to pay closer attention to animal abuse.
If you suspect that someone is abusing a pet or other domestic animals, no matter where you live, your first step should be to contact your local animal control agency or call 9-1-1 if you don't know which organization to call. Try to document what you have seen or know about the abuse as best you can.
Our animal friends usually don't have defenses against abusers. We need to help them in any way we can.