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Iowa animal abuse laws have no teeth, national group says

Trish Mehaffey, CR Gazette –

 

CEDAR RAPIDS — Iowa’s animal abuse laws lack not only bite but even the bark, according to an annual report by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, which has consistently ranked the state among the worst for six years.

The analysis compares animal protection laws and ranks the states based on 14 categories including penalties, exemptions, law enforcement policies and fighting.

The penalties for animal abuse here are weak, Assistant Linn County Attorney Jason Burns said last month, and Iowa is far behind many other states when it comes to protective laws.

“The report is accurate,” said Burns, who prosecuted many animal abuse cases when he handled misdemeanors. “There are no felony offenses except for animal torture on the second offense and animal fighting on the second offense. There is no mandatory jail time for any offense, only fines.”

Diane Webber, manager of Cedar Rapids Animal Care and Control, said the state lacks many provisions the report evaluates, such as penalties for cruelty and prohibiting abusers from future animal ownership.

However, she said, Iowa made positive steps in recent years to improve the standard of care for animals in “puppy mills,” and there is a provision in the animal torture law that requires anyone convicted to undergo mandatory psychological evaluation.

The report puts Iowa, South Dakota, Idaho, North Dakota and Kentucky among the worst for animal laws.

The top-ranked states — Illinois, Maine, Michigan, Oregon and California — generally have felony penalties for cruelty, neglect, abandonment and sexual assault. They also have increased penalties for repeat abusers, pre-conviction forfeiture of animals and mandatory reporting of suspected animal cruelty by veterinarians.

Report author Stephan Otto, Animal Legal Defense Fund director of legislative affairs, said that since the rankings were established in 2006, many of the states have improved or enhanced animal laws. Over the past five years, more than half had improvements.

According to the study, the overall improvements included expanding the range of protections for animals, stiffer penalties for offenders, better standards of care for animals and bans on ownership after convictions.

Burns and Webber said they didn’t know why Iowa legislators haven’t made animal law penalties harsher, except that they don’t want such protections to interfere with Iowa’s livestock industry — even though livestock is excluded from the state’s animal laws, Burns pointed out.

Rep. Jim Lykam, D-Davenport, said it’s always a conflict with the livestock industry, even if an advocate has the best intentions just to strengthen animal abuse laws for dogs and cats.

“They say it’s a ‘slippery slope’ we’re going down and then livestock will be next,” Lykam said. “Agriculture is the second-largest industry in the state, so it’s always going to be a conflict.”

Webber said fortunately, the animal abuse complaints of late haven’t been extreme cases, which would likely result in minor punishment with the current laws.

The worst case in Cedar Rapids in recent years involved Jennifer Wood, 36, who was accused of 35 counts of animal abuse and other code violations last year. She pleaded guilty before her trial was completed to 35 counts of unhealthy or unsanitary conditions.

Nearly 300 animals in Wood’s care had either been taken from her or voluntarily surrendered since 1997 because of unsanitary conditions, according to a Gazette investigation.

 

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