WASHINGTON — People who commit acts of animal cruelty will now be charged with a felony at the federal level.
President Donald Trump has signed into law a bipartisan piece of legislation that makes intentional acts of animal cruelty — crushing, burning, drowning, suffocating, impaling or otherwise torturing animals — a federal crime punishable by up to seven years in prison.
“It is important that we combat these heinous and sadistic acts of cruelty, which are totally unacceptable in a civilized society,” Trump said at the signing ceremony Monday.
The Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act was introduced by two Republican and Democratic Florida lawmakers this year, and passed unanimously in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Legislators and animal rights groups alike applauded the bill and its bipartisan support.
“I think it’s wonderful new legislation,” said Ron Perez, president of the Columbia-Greene Humane Society. “The fact it goes out to seven years I think is spectacular. With the fed stepping into this, especially at this level, I think this is a giant win for animals.”
Perez applauded district attorneys Joseph Stanzione of Greene County and Paul Czajka of Columbia County for their commitment to combat animal cruelty, but said other areas of the state and nation may not be as fortunate.
Stanzione did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
In general, Columbia and Greene counties combined to see four to five cases of some type of animal cruelty each year, Perez said. He’s unsure whether the new federal felony classification will deter more people from torturing animals, but said, “There is a punishment in line now that I think is more in line for where a crime against an animal should be as opposed to where it used to be.”
The bill could help prosecutors in cases that cross state lines and would also funnel more resources toward investigating and prosecuting animal cruelty cases.
Animal cruelty cases in New York are already prosecuted locally under the state’s Agriculture and Markets Law, but perpetrators can get up to just two years in jail if they torture companion animals. Cruelty toward livestock animals results in a misdemeanor charge.
“The federal government can prosecute conduct that is a federal crime and the same criminal conduct could be prosecuted at the local level,” Columbia County District Attorney Paul Czajka said.
National statistics on animal cruelty are difficult to gather, according to the Humane Society of the United States.
“The shocking number of animal cruelty cases reported every day is just the tip of the iceberg. Most cases are never reported. Unlike violent crimes against people, cases of animal abuse are not compiled by state or federal agencies, making it difficult to calculate just how common they are,” the Society said.
Surveys suggest that those who intentionally abuse animals are predominantly men under 30, according to the Humane Society. The animals whose abuse is most often reported are dogs, cats, horses and livestock.
Amanda Purcell contributed to this report.
Massarah Mikati covers the New York State Legislature and immigration for Johnson Newspaper Corp. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or find her on Twitter @massarahmikati.