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Animal welfare laws take off

Lawmakers and voters have shown a lot of interest in protecting animals lately, as evidenced shown by proposed bills and ratified laws across the U.S.

Take Tennessee, for example, which now has a registry for animal abuse offenders. Modeled off of the sex offender database, this registry is open to public viewing, allowing citizens to see if animal abusers live nearby. It provides a profile on each offender.

Any person who is charged with aggravated animal abuse or felony animal fighting is placed onto the registry. First-time offenders appear there for two years. Second-time offenders add five years to their time on the registry. Currently, no one meets the legal requirements to be a part of the registry.

Other states may be close behind, either by using Tennessee’s bill and software or by duplicating their own sex offender websites.

Florida is also on the cutting edge of animal welfare laws, with the introduction of the P.A.W.S. Act. This bill, which has been introduced in both the State House and Senate as of Jan. 12, would make it a crime to leave animals in unattended vehicles under conditions that would cause harm to the animal. Extreme heat or cold, lack of ventilation and lack of food or water are all conditions that would qualify.

Under the P.A.W.S. Act, this is how a confined animal case would be handled. A citizen would report the confinement of the animal by calling 9-1-1. An animal control officer, firefighter, police officer or emergency medical responder must then identify that the conditions are unsafe for the animal and then make a reasonable effort to locate the owner.

If a reasonable effort has been made and the owner cannot be located, first responders would then have the right to remove the animal from the area of confinement and also have the right to break into a vehicle if the animal is in immediate danger. The first responder has to leave a written notice of their actions, and then take the animal to a nearby animal shelter for safekeeping or veterinary hospital for treatment, if necessary.

Another Florida bill that was introduced to the state House and Senate on Jan.12 was the Care for Retired Law Enforcement Dogs Program Act. If this bill passes, it would require the Department of Law Enforcement to contract with a non-profit organization to provide veterinary care funding to former handlers and adopters of retired law enforcement dogs. It recognizes that law enforcement dogs are integral and cost-effective parts of the law enforcement agencies and that the high-risk nature of their work exposes them to higher rates of injury than non-service dogs. It would appropriate $300,000 a year to provide for veterinary expenses to the dogs, not to exceed $1,500 per dog in a year.

It is often said that the best indicator of a society’s morals can be seen in both its laws and its treatment of animals. If this is so, then these laws, should they pass, will make great strides in animal welfare and prove us to be kind, compassionate voters.

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