A new effort in the state Senate would strengthen charges for people who abuse animals and make it easier for law enforcement to intervene in cases of cruelty.
Senate Bill 5501 expands felony charges for animal cruelty, outlaws forcing all animals to fight and increases the legal value of pets. It also makes it easier for animal control officers to retrieve animals from cars without liability.
Right now, animal cruelty in the first degree includes intentionally inflicting substantial pain, causing physical injury or killing an animal. The bill would expand the charge to include anyone who causes an animal undue suffering with malice or extreme indifference to life. It’s a class C felony, with a maximum penalty of five years or a $10,000 fine.
The bill would give animal control officers more power to save animals and prosecute offenders, Thurston County Animal Control officer Erica Johnson told a Senate committee Tuesday.
“Adding malice and extreme indifference to life would allow me to request charge for people who just don’t care,” she said. Anyone charged with first degree animal cruelty is barred from owning animals or living anywhere where animals are present.
Forcing some animals to fight is illegal in Washington state, but the definition is limited to dogs and male chickens. The bill expands the state’s definition to include all animals.
It would also increase the value limit of a pet animal to $750, the monetary threshold for theft in the third degree. That’s three times the current value limit.
If an animal is left in a vehicle in excessive heat or cold, the bill would allow an animal control officer to remove the animal without liability. The owner could, if the bill passes, face a $125 fine.
Animal control officers often wait for law enforcement to arrive because liability has been a grey area, Johnson told committee members. “We’ve been told to wait outside,” she said.
No one testified in opposition to the bill at its first hearing Tuesday, but Sen. Pam Roach raised concerns. “This bill is extremely broad and I think we need to understand how subjective it really is,” the Auburn Republican told fellow committee members.