Acts of animal cruelty could result in harsher charges, and in some cases felony charges, if a bill which passed the Alabama House of Representatives on Tuesday becomes law.
House Bill 27 would increase animal cruelty from a Class B misdemeanor to a Class A misdemeanor.
Rep. Joe Faust, R-Fairhope, the sponsor, said animal cruelty has been a serious issue for the state.
Faust said he decided to sponsor the bill in the wake of an extreme case of animal cruelty last year.
The incident occurred in Summerdale when Blue Hearted Puppies, a business that promoted itself as a no-kill shelter, was found to have been abandoned by the owners.
More than 40 animals were found dead, and 109 were found starving.
HB 27 would also create the classification of "aggravated animal cruelty" for extreme cases.
The bill explains that aggravated animal cruelty would be a Class C felony and would be applied when the act of cruelty or neglect was "especially heinous, atrocious, cruel or involved the infliction of torture to the animal."
Class C felonies have a minimum penalty of one year and one day and a maximum of 10 years of imprisonment, or a minimum of 10 years if a firearm or deadly weapon is involved.
Felony animal cruelty under current law is defined as an intentional act of torture.
HB 27 would have allowed prosecutors to seek felony charges more easily in the Blue Hearted Puppies case.
Alabama has the 12th weakest animal cruelty laws of any state, according to a report released by the Animal Legal Defense Fund.
The ALDF rates the laws in terms of “strength and comprehensiveness.”
"We've had over 5,000 people calling and writing emails wanting to get it passed," Faust said about his bill. “This is unusual.”
"I've never had a bill happen like that before with so much interest in it."
The bill was written by Linda Dooley of Baldwin County.
"I've been an animal lover all my life,” Dooley said. "I'm in law school right now.
"As soon as I get out of law school I will become an animal welfare attorney, exclusively."
Dooley said the current laws are not strong enough, and strengthening them “almost felt like a calling.”
The bill's passage through the House was slowed due to legislative gridlock.
Revisions and clarifications to ensure that farmers and universities would not face penalties for common practices also slowed the bill down.
Faust said the Alabama’s Farmer Federation was originally concerned that farmers might face penalties for actions such as dehorning and castrating cattle.
Universities that conduct scientific research on animals were also concerned they might suffer under the new law.
Despite the slow pace, Faust said he is confident that the bill will be approved if it can pass through the Senate before the legislative session ends May 20.
"If people want to see this bill passed, then they should write or call their legislator and tell them they would like to see that House bill passed," Faust said. “When it comes to the floor it would be a big help if they had their minds made up already."
Faust explained his sponsorship of the bill by using a quotation from one of the bill’s supporters: “The animals can't talk, so we have to talk for 'em,"
Troy University journalism student William Wotawa of Ozark wrote this story as part of a project partly funded by the Alabama Press Association Journalism Foundation.