LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas' top lawyer says he wants a new law making aggravated cruelty to dogs, cats and horses a felony to be used to stop severe abuse, not curtail rural traditions.
"Some folks have got it in their minds that this (law) makes it illegal to put a dog in the back of a pickup truck," Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said Thursday. "Let me assure you that I like my job and I'd like to be re-elected, and I'm not crazy enough to make it illegal to have your dog in the back of your pickup truck."
On Friday, Arkansas will become the 46th state to make animal cruelty a felony. McDaniel brokered the new law, which also makes cockfighting a felony, as a compromise between groups such as the Humane Society of the United States and the Arkansas Farm Bureau.
Previous attempts to stiffen the state's animal cruelty laws failed under opposition from hunters and farmers.
McDaniel said he doesn't expect to see a big increase in animal cruelty cases, but he's looking forward to the first successful felony prosecution.
"I think there have been extreme cases of animal cruelty that have been reported and discovered, law enforcement has done what they could, but they just needed additional tools in order to be able to do more," he said.
While he's received a lot of calls from people worried about driving with their pets in their pickup beds, he said that's not what law enforcement officers are supposed to focus on.
"If anybody brings some silly case, something that is clearly not worth of a felony, that would be disappointing," McDaniel said. "It is clearly intended to be a serious penalty for serious misconduct."
Using a $250,000 grant from McDaniel's office, the University of Arkansas System's Criminal Justice Institute will soon begin training investigators statewide on the new penalties and restrictions. The institute, based in Little Rock, has already posted tips on its Web site for police enforcing the law.
The institute also is creating a list of animal shelters and humane societies that could take in animals seized from crime scenes, deputy director Cheryl May said. One of the biggest concerns officers have expressed is where to take animals that have been seized, she said.
"When you have evidence from a crime scene, often times you can put those in bags," May said. "With dogs and cats, you obviously can't do that."
The new law makes aggravated cruelty to dogs, cats and horses punishable with a fine of up to $10,000 and up to six years in prison for a first offense. It also includes a five-year sentencing enhancement for anyone convicted of torturing an animal in front of a child.
In exchange for the stiffer penalties, animal welfare groups made several concessions, including a change in state law so only certified law enforcement officers can arrest someone for animal cruelty.
Kay Simpson, director of the Humane Society of Pulaski County, said the concession is one she was more than willing to make.
"It was never a plus for us to have an arrest power," Simpson said. "I've got enough common sense that you don't try to go up and try to arrest somebody."
By The Associated Press, ANDREW DeMILLO, AP Press Writer
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