Recently, the California State Senate passed Assembly Bill 2012, which will increase the penalty for animal neglect, by a vote of 26 to 7. Authored by Assemblymember Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) and co-sponsored by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), the bill will make the laws for animal cruelty and animal neglect more consistent by providing a maximum sentence for up to one year in jail for animal neglect, as well as potential fines up to $20,000.
Currently, cases of animal neglect and animal cruelty are treated differently. The fine is the same for both, but cases of animal neglect are only punishable by a maximum 6-month jail sentence. “A prolonged period of animal neglect may be more cruel and cause more pain to an animal than a single act of cruelty,” says Jill Buckley, Senior Director of ASPCA Government Relations. Animal neglect is as inexcusable as animal cruelty since animals that are deprived of food and water, for example, can suffer for extended periods of time and such conditions can also lead to permanent injury.
Oftentimes, cases of animal neglect arise when animal hoarders are incapable of taking care of the animals that they have in their possession. A lack of proper food, water and veterinary care can cause these animals to suffer or die. “This bill will make it clear that neglect cases are to be taken seriously,” says Buckley. “Law enforcement officers will be able to make it clear to those arrested for animal neglect that they may serve up to a year in jail for this crime. Prosecutors will be able to ask for stiffer sentences in these cases rather than a slap on the wrist.”
The success of AB 2012 and its approval by lawmakers in Sacramento may reflect a growing public awareness about the issue of animal abuse. People are becoming more aware that the ability to harm an animal can extend to the capability for greater harm. “People are realizing it is possible that if animals are neglected or abused in the home, children or other family members may also be neglected or abused,” says Buckley. “The ASPCA and other animal welfare organizations have made it a priority to educate the public regarding the serious nature of animal abuse.”
The bill has a few more steps before it becomes a law, but California’s passage of such important animal rights legislation may encourage other states to also impose harsher penalties for these crimes. According to Buckley, “California often leads the way when it comes to animal protection laws and this bill will further demonstrate that Californians care about the welfare of animals.”