In February, William Dolsen of Manistee County, Michigan, was convicted of animal cruelty after authorities found nearly 100 severely malnourished animals on his property, some of whom had died. His sentence? A mere 30 days in jail and a year’s probation.
According to a press account, deputies found “dozens of animals, including cows, pigs, goats, ponies, ducks, geese, chickens and turkeys, without food, water and bedding.”
That same day, in Florida, Sarah Wells faced a judge after neglecting and starving a pit bull to death. She received a sentence of just 120 days.
In a penal system that often doles out harsh sentences for minor, nonviolent infractions, animal abuse is one instance where the punishment seldom suits the severity of the crime.
State by state, laws against animal cruelty are inconsistent and often lax. In Alabama, for example, it’s actually legal to shoot a dog or cat for urinating or defecating on your property.
In my home state of New Jersey, people who “needlessly kill” or “inflict unnecessary cruelty upon a living animal or creature” face a maximum of $1,000 fine and six months in jail.
Even in states where tougher laws exist, there is often a lack of willingness to enforce them.
For instance, in Michigan, where Dolen got off lightly, felony animal cruelty charges can result in up to four years in prison. But Dolsen cut a deal in which he pled “No Contest” to misdemeanor animal cruelty in exchange for more serious felony charges being dropped.
Fortunately, some states have prosecuted animal abusers to a fuller extent. In Massachusetts, Radoslaw Czerkawski was sentenced to eight to ten years in a multi-count case in which a dog found with broken bones and stab wounds ultimately perished. The severity of the abuse drew a public outcry, prompting prosecutors to seek up to 15 years.
Other states are toughening––and smartening––their laws. Last year, Pennsylvania increased penalties for animal abuse to up to seven years behind bars. Highlights of the statute include Libre’s Law, which limits the time pets can be tied outside in subfreezing weather to half an hour. The weather safety measure was named for abuse survivor Libre, who endeared himself to the public and lawmakers alike as a “canine lobbyist.”
In protecting animals from abuse we also protect ourselves. The Humane Society of the United States, a prominent animal welfare group, has drawn a direct correlation between animal abuse and domestic violence. In one survey, 71 percent of domestic violence victims reported that their abuser also targeted pets. In another study, researchers found that pet abuse had occurred in 88 percent of the families under supervision for child abuse.
Lenient laws, judges and prosecutors are not only setting animal abusers free to terrorize animals, but also family members and children. The Humane Society’s research shows that animal abusers are as much a menace to the public as they are to pets.
Today, William Dolsen is free after serving less than one day in prison for each animal he abused. That’s not justice––it’s just nonsense. And it has to stop.
Christopher Dale writes on society, politics and sobriety-based issues. This column was written for the Progressive Media Project, which is run by The Progressive magazine, and distributed by Tribune News Service.