Laws Would Combat Animal Cruelty

State legislators in Salem are moving forward with bills to protect animals living in Oregon. Many of the new laws would give law enforcement officers additional means to make sure existing laws against animal cruelty are obeyed.

As the weather heats up, the issue of dogs being left in hot cars heats up too. The “dogs in cars bill,” as its sponsor Sen. Tim Knopp (R-Bend) calls it, is moving forward in the Legislature. SB 614 would allow law enforcement officers to break into a vehicle to save an animal.

“Law enforcement didn’t feel they had the authority to break in,” Knopp says. Sometimes they have to break a window or do serious damage to the car, and this bill would guarantee they wouldn’t be sued for the damages.

Lane County Disrict Attorney Alex Gardner says the county already has an ordinance that allows an animal welfare officer or a peace officer to enter a car and impound an animal that they believe may be in danger of dying.

Knopp says SB 614 would be enforced the same way across the state — any officer could break into a hot car if they had probable cause to believe that an animal was being subjected to abuse. The bill passed out of the Senate and the House Committee on Judiciary with a “do pass” recommendation.

Rep. Brad Witt (D-Clatsakanie) has proposed a new law every session dealing with animal cruelty issues. This session, he’s sponsoring HB 2888 — a bill that would allow individuals or the court to shut down establishments where animal cruelty is taking place. It uses a “nuisance abatement” structure, meaning actions like an enjoinder (an order for the cruel acts to stop or to shut the establishment down) could be taken against people who were causing the “nuisance.”

HB 2888 would not make any additional cruel acts against animals illegal. It solely gives communities an extra tool to eliminate places where animal cruelty is occurring.

Scott Beckstead, the Oregon director for the Humane Society of the United States, says the bill is especially needed in rural communities where law enforcement is already underfunded and overloaded.

“Local sheriffs offices don’t have the resources to be really aggressive towards these issues,” Beckstead says.

The law would be an alternative means to take action toward it, because observers or neighbors could file their own action. Anyone witnessing cockfights, dogfights, puppy mills, the selling of raw fur or just severe animal neglect could use the bill to make the offenders stop.

“This will help society be able to begin shutting down avenues for abuse in other realms,” Witt says. He says animal cruelty is often a “gateway” to physical abuse and other crimes against humanity.

Representatives from the Oregon Farm Bureau and Oregon Dairy Farmers Association testified against HB 2888. They voiced concern that some neighbors might have different perceptions of what animal cruelty is. They are concerned that “normal” practices of animal husbandry might fall under cruelty for some people.

“You can’t process a chicken or a pig without harming it first,” says Roger Beyer, representing ODFA.

Witt says animal husbandry is not illegal, so his bill would have no effect.

Rep. David Gomberg (D-Central Coast) is also working to make sure laws against animal cruelty are followed. He is the sponsor of HB 2393, a law that would make the “encouragement” of sexual assault of animals illegal. It is meant to target producers and distributors of recordings of sexual acts between animals and humans. The bill would also increase the penalties for sexually assaulting an animal to five years imprisonment, a $125,000 fine, or both.

Both HB 2888 and HB 2393 passed out of the House and are now in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Because Lane County issues code violations in most cases rather than criminal charges, previous legal improvements to Oregon’s   handling of animal cases haven’t always affected Lane County.

Mike Russell of Lane County Parks and Animal Services says, “In general,  for those severe cases that we believe rise to a criminal level, Lane County Animal Services would refer those cases to the district attorney for criminal prosecution.”