Bill making animal torture a felony on first offense advances

Published 11:10 am Friday, March 15, 2024

By Sarah Ladd

Kentucky Today


The Kentucky Senate Judiciary Committee advanced a bill Thursday that would make it a Class D felony to torture a dog or cat on the first offense

Doing so is already a felony on subsequent offenses, according to the sponsor, Rep. Susan Witten, R-Louisville.

She spoke alongside Kentucky Humane Society celebrity rescue Ethan, who lay on a blanket on the floor and chewed a rawhide during the discussion. House Bill 258, which passed the committee 8-2, is named Ethan’s Law in honor of the canine who won hearts over as he recovered from severe neglect in 2021. Ethan’s human, Jeff Callaway, was also present but did not testify Thursday.

Torture is defined in the bill as “intentional infliction of or subjection to extreme physical pain or serious injury or death to a dog or cat, motivated by intent or wanton disregard that causes, increases, or prolongs the pain or suffering of the dog or cat, including serious physical injury or infirmity.”

Examples of torture include the animal being sealed in a plastic bag, physically restrained with tape or ropes and abandoned with no arrangements made for care and more.

“Kentucky needs to address the issue of torture pertaining to dogs and cats for the sake of all good pet owners and their pets,” Witten told lawmakers.

Sen. President Robert Stivers asked about the bill’s impact on rural communities who don’t have easy access to a veterinarian.

“I can see a circumstance … my dog runs out in the road,” Stivers, who later voted in favor of the bill, said. “I don’t have a veterinarian real close to me. (It) gets hit. I bring it in, I manually restrain it. It’s going to die and I do the necessary things.”

In this hypothetical scenario, Stivers said, “I do the necessary things to put it out of its misery. Well, I have manually restrained the dog and done something that is going to create serious physical injury but it is not my intent in any way to torture or prolong  illness of this dog. Actually, it is the converse of that.”

Witten said such a situation is not considered torture under her bill.

“That is why intent is so important and wanton disregard is so important in this bill,” she said. “Those are the qualifiers that have to be met to qualify for torture. So in that instance, that would not be considered torture.”

Sen. Matthew Deneen, R-Elizabethtown, asked if farmers who keep hunting dogs “in kennels or they keep a dog, maybe, tied up to a tree in the backyard by the chicken coop” could be criminally charged under the bill. He voted in favor of the bill.

“Locked in a cage does not constitute torture,” Witten replied. “It is when you are locked in a cage, intentionally inflicting pain by starving, by lack of food. So, those good farmers … certainly would not be in the scope of this bill.”

HB258 can go to the Senate floor for consideration now. Should it pass there, it can head to Gov. Andy Beshear’s desk for a signature or veto.