Bill proposes longer prison sentences for animal abusers

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By: Jake Stofan | Capitol News Service
December 6, 2017

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CNS) -- Stopping the abuse of animals is on the legislature's front burner. The hope is tougher penalties will catch offenders before their abuse spreads to people.

Earlier this year, video from a police body camera depicting a case of animal abuse shocked the state. A Labrador Retriever puppy named Ponce was shown being beaten to death.

A new bill, entitled Ponce's Law, would increase penalties for animal abuse. The crime would remain a third-degree felony, but judges would have more leeway to hand out longer prison sentences.

"We're going to make animal cruelty much more serious in Florida law," declared Laura Bevan with the Humane Society. "It is a felony, but now it's a more serious felony. We recognize that anybody who can do this to an animal is a dangerous person in our community."

Animal abuse is often a red flag for future violent and abusive behavior towards people. Those who abuse animals also pose a risk to children in some cases.

"Whenever you abuse things like that, that's a possibility," said Kurt Kelly with the Florida Coalition for Children. "It could bleed over into child welfare and even into spousal abuse."

The bill also gives courts the ability to prohibit an abuser from owning or interacting with animals.

"Why can they go get another animal and abuse that animal, too?" asks Bevan.

Because there is no animal abuser database in existence, it will be difficult to ensure an abuser won't be able to obtain another animal. Sponsors say enforcement will rely heavily on the community keeping an eye on abusers.

Ponce's Law grew out of a community effort in Daytona, where the dog was killed. The group gathered more than 70,00 signatures in support of the legislation.

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