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Over the last few weeks we have had multiple news story stemming from a social media video that showed a male punching a dog in its face. Later it was learned the dog had died of multiple stab wounds.

As the story has developed four young men, one at 17 years old and three at 18, have been charged with second-degree cruelty to animals and three of the four have been charged with torture of a cat/dog with serious physical injury or death.

While the four have been charged, they have not been convicted as their cases are still making their way through court.

However, as pet owners, animal lovers and concerned citizens, we see this incident as a result of weak animal protection laws in Kentucky and the failure of the Commonwealth to protect our voiceless friends.

For the last 12 years Kentucky has ranked last in animal protection laws. The Animal Legal Defense Fund, the nation’s preeminent legal advocacy organization for animals, released the 13th annual year-end U.S. Animal Protection Laws Rankings Report (2018) earlier this year ranking the animal protection laws of all 50 states.

Kentucky holds steady in last place for the 12th consecutive year, followed by Mississippi (49), Iowa (48), Utah (47), and New Mexico (46) rounding out states with the weakest animal protection laws.

“Every year, we see more states enacting broader legal protections for animals. This tremendous progress is detailed in the Rankings Report,” says Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells on a report found at aldf.org. “We have a long way to go until animals are fully protected under the legal system as they deserve, especially in the lowest-ranked states but elsewhere as well, and that’s why we fight so hard in our legal work for animals. But as this year’s Rankings Report shows, step by step we as a nation are improving how the law treats animals.”

The Rankings are based on a comprehensive review of each jurisdiction’s animal protection laws including over 3,000 pages of statutes. This is the longest-running and most authoritative report of its kind, and tracks which states are taking animal protection seriously.

So if more states are supporting broader legal protections for animals, why has Kentucky consistently been ranked last?

Shockingly, in Kentucky veterinarians are prohibited from reporting suspected abuse. In states that are ranked best in animal protection laws, such as Illinois, Oregon and Colorado, veterinarians are allowed to report abuse.

Felony charges are available only for cruelty and fighting, both against only select animals.

In Kentucky these were listed as the major areas needing improvement in animal protection laws:

• No felony provisions for neglect or abandonment

• Inadequate definitions/standards of basic care

• No increased penalties when abuse is committed in the presence of a minor or involves multiple animals

• No mental health evaluations or counseling for offenders

• No statutory authority to allow protective orders to include animals

• No cost mitigation or recovery provisions for impounded animals, except for horses

• No provisions for forfeiture of cruelly treated animals, other than horses

• No restrictions on future ownership or possession of animals following a conviction

• No provisions for select non-animal-related agencies/professionals to report suspected animal abuse

• Veterinarians are prohibited from reporting suspected cruelty or fighting

• No provisions for sexual assault

There needs to be changes in Kentucky’s animal protection laws and in the punishment that offenders receive, specifically the need for mental health evaluations or counseling needing to be part of the sentence for offenders.

Violence against animals is almost always precursors to violent crime directed at humans, according to several researchers.

In an article published by the Michigan State University College of Law in 2008, Cynthia Hodges reported that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) considers past animal abuse when profiling serial killers.

According to Robert K. Ressler, who developed profiles of serial killers for the FBI, “Murderers...very often start out by killing and torturing animals as kids.”

FBI criminal profiler, John Douglas, writes in “The Mind Hunter” that serial offenders’ earliest acts of violence are often the torture and/or killing of pets or wildlife, then brutalizing younger siblings, and then finally engaging in domestic violence or street crime.

Hodges also writes about the correlation between domestic violence and animal abuse: “When animals in a home are abused or neglected, it is a warning sign that others in the household may not be safe. Because abusers target the powerless, crimes against animals, spouses, children, and the elderly often go hand in hand.”

It is time Kentucky’s citizens demand broader animal protection laws for our voiceless friends.

Vikki Crook who works in a number of roles with various rescue organizations agreed that Kentucky needs changes made to the animal protection laws and secondly urges community members to help take responsibility of the stray dog population.

Crook said a lot of that is relative to the fact that the Tri-County needs more low cost spay and neuter options.

Crook said if someone sees a stray in the area to report it to animal control, contact someone with a rescue or an animal shelter.

“This is a good opportunity to contact people in public office and legislators,” Crook said. “Kentucky animal protection laws have to change.”

State legislators to contact. Phone numbers provided from the Kentucky General Assembly website legislature.ky.gov:

Rep. Robert Goforth (89th District) - 606-305-1321

Rep. Jim Stewart (86th District) - 606-542-5210

Rep. Regina Huff (82nd District) - 606-549-3439

Rep. Tommy Turner (85th District) - 606-274-5175

Rep. Derek Lewis (90th District) - 606-594-0061

Sen. Albert Robinson (21st District) - 502-564-8100 ext. 604

Sen Robert Stivers (25th District) - 606-598-8575

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