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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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Oops. That comment I left was not intended as a reply, but as a free standing comment.

Anyone who harms a animal is just one step away from doing it to people. They do it because they can get away with it. Throw them in jail and throw away the keys. No suspended sentence and no probation.

Shutta, you said it. Look into those innocent eyes of a newborn pup, all they want is for someone to love them and to take care of them. They give so much more back. Anyone that thinks they need to feel the power of superiority over something smaller and weeker then themselves, really needs help or to be put away.
Then again, that’s not the only reason for abuse. There is always those that use animals for amusement or profit… torture and fighting. There is no help for them..Throw the book at them, throw them in a cell and throw away the key.
Great Article….We need more to make Iowans more aware that they live in a state like this.

I’ve reported people who were abusing their animals in the past, and I will continue to do so in the future. When it comes to animal abuse i could easily line perpetrators up against the wall and shoot them. It wouldn’t bother me in the slightest. I also want to mention that I include people who reach for the guns to automatically kill raccoons, possums, squirrels when they see them for no good reason to also fit within the animal abuser category. There are plenty of them.

Sorry about the “4” – my daughter was pounding on the keyboard, she wants to speak her mind too.

Animal abuse NEEDS to be a felony in ALL states! It is an evil crime against the innocent. There should be no “plea deals” or taking lesser charges. Anyone that could harm an animal is pure evil. Statistics say it leads to other crimes later on. Stop them!!! I don’t care if you’re 10 years old or 4
70 years old, if you hurt an animal….YOU HAVE NO SOUL & society doesn’t want you in it!!!

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