ST. PAUL (AP) -- A person who kills or tortures pets, companion animals or service animals such as seeing-eye dogs would be subject to felony charges under a bill a House committee advanced Tuesday.
"You can put an animal in a microwave, you can set an animal on fire, and the crime is still only a misdemeanor," Rep. James Clark, R-New Ulm, said of the current law. He said 31 states have adopted similar felony penalties.
The bill would allow penalties of up to four years in prison and a $10,000 fine for those who kill pets in an attempt to terrorize a person. Other offenses would be subject to two years in prison or a $5,000 fine.
Backers said the bill would give more tools to probation officers and police, pointing to the link between cruelty to animals and violence against people.
Keith Streff, an investigator with the Animal Humane Society, said some people, when told their crimes are only misdemeanors, consider their actions worth the risk. "They consider these animals their property and they're going to do what they want."
But Rep. Dave Bishop, R-Rochester, said he's skeptical that the change will do much to stop animal abuse.
"I have yet to see the evidence that increasing the penalty has decreased the occurrence of an offense," Bishop said of other areas of law that have been turned from misdemeanors to felonies.
Others questioned whether the law could be applied to those who euthanize their own pets. Clark said it would not.
The bill, which cleared the House Crime Prevention Committee but must still be heard in a judiciary committee, combines two bills that have already been heard in the Senate.
That chamber passed a bill making cruelty to service animals a felony. A separate bill to increase the penalty on pet torture was heard on the Senate floor, but did not receive a vote after two rural lawmakers questioned what would happen in the case of killing feral cats.
Said Rep. Barb Sykora, an Excelsior Republican: "It seems to me someone's not very likely to put Fluffy in the oven if it's going to cost them $10,000."
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