The Ohio House has passed a bill that would increase the penalties for abusing dogs and cats. And as Ohio Public Radio’s Jo Ingles reports, the bill passed with support from both Republicans and Democrats.
The bill would, in most cases, make it a low-level felony to abuse a companion dog or cat.
Right now, most of these cases are misdemeanors. But this bill would make it so people who abuse, torture, or kill an animal -- or deprive it of food and shelter -- could receive up to a year in jail.
This legislation is known as the Goddard bill, named after long time Cleveland meteorologist Dick Goddard, who has advocated for animal welfare for a long time.
Democratic House Rep. John Barnes says it’s time for the legislature to bring Ohio’s animal cruelty law in line with most other states.
“Dogs are God’s creations, and as part of the life cycle, they should be respected," Barnes said.
Republican State Rep. Jim Buchy says abuse of companion dogs and cats cannot be tolerated.
We obviously have to have this law passed so that we can really get to those scoundrels that abuse and torture animals," Buchy said.
Democratic State Rep. Nick Celebreeze points out people who abuse other people often abuse pets to maintain power over their owners.
“In fact, studies show that anywhere from 25 to 40 percent of battered women are unable to escape the abusive situation primarily because they feel and they are concerned about what would happen to their pet if they were to leave that house," Celebreeze said.
And Republican Rep. Dave Hall notes hurting animals is often a gateway for criminals to start hurting other people.
“What we’ve seen studies are after they’ve done things to animals, they are more likely to ramp it up," Hall said.
But some representatives, like Republican Rep. Lynn Wachtman, worry this bill goes too far.
“A prosecutor could -- I know we like to trust their judgment, I would rather not give them the judgment of charging a person with a felony who for instance may shoot a neighbor’s dog that is coming over the maul their dog or something, or kill their cat," Wachtman said.
Republican Terry Boose says it’s important to remember people in rural areas of Ohio often relate to their dogs and cats differently.
“Some of our pets in rural areas have maybe a little bit bigger role than just being your best friend, or the person you can lay with when you are sick or meet you at the door," Boose said. "It might be the cats that are out in the barn and catching the mice. It might be the dogs that are helping around the farm...And my concern is that some of these definitions are just not tight enough.”
But Democratic Rep. Bill Patmon responds to that concern head on.
“Our intent in this was to make sure, darn sure, that the most powerful and productive industry in the state of Ohio, which is 70 percent, our farmers, are protected," Patmon said. "This is mainly an urban problem and this bill addresses that and that only.”
The bill has passed the Ohio House 83 to 8. It now goes to the Ohio Senate.