It’s not often I’m given a soapbox. But since David Ziemer suggested swapping columns – he’d write about ways to save money in the law office, and I’d write something voicing a strong opinion, here goes.
What David learned from our little experiment was that, try as he might to avoid his dark side, it still slipped out. I’ve found, however, that I’m incapable of being dark – in print, anyway. I’m a mommy, and we mommies try to keep things light.
We also try to pass on important life lessons, such as to respect all living creatures. So that’s why I’ve opted to address a pending animal cruelty bill that I’m passionate about, and that should be passed by Wisconsin’s lawmakers.
Last month, Rep. Nick Milroy (D-Superior) and others introduced AB 747, and Sen. Robert Jauch (D-Poplar) and others introduced a companion bill, S.B. 555. The measure has been popularly dubbed the “Windchill Bill” after a malnourished colt that was left outside in sub-zero temperatures for weeks. Despite its rescue, the horse ultimately died of hypothermia, frostbite and dehydration.
The bill has two important goals – curbing animal abuse and neglect, and encouraging victims of domestic abuse to seek refuge for themselves and their pets.
The bill stiffens the existing penalties for animal cruelty. A person who intentionally mistreats an animal, or fails to provide an animal for whom he or she is responsible proper food, shelter and water, or who abandons an animal, will still be guilty of a misdemeanor, as is true under current law. But the charge will be elevated to a felony if the action is taken in the presence of a child, or if the animal suffers great bodily harm or dies.
The bill also makes it a felony for a person to cause a child under the age of 18 to mistreat an animal.
In addition, the bill would empower judges and court commissioners to include in restraining orders and injunctions the animals that a victim of domestic abuse cares for or owns.
Madison attorney Megan A. Senatori, who teaches animal law classes at both of Wisconsin’s law schools and is a co-founder of the Sheltering Animals of Abuse Victims Program, points to a 2006 study by Pamela Carlyle-Frank and Tom Flanagan on the American Humane Society Web site. It found that 48 percent of battered women reported that animal abuse had occurred “often” during the past 12 months. An additional 30 percent reported that the abuse occurred “almost always.”
Perhaps some judges already include pets in the orders they make. If not, codifying this should at the very least make them more aware of the problem, and encourage them to ask abuse victims if there are animals at risk as well.
No one seems troubled by the provisions regarding “pet protection orders.” It’s the criminal portions of the bill that have been scrutinized at the two public hearings that have already been held. From input at those hearings, the bill’s primary proponent, Rep. Milroy, says staff at the Legislative Reference Bureau is in the process of drafting amendments to the bill that will hopefully make it more likely to pass.
The changes will remove some language from the bill’s definition of “cruel.” As it stands, cruel is defined as “causing or failing to prevent unnecessary and excessive pain or suffering or unjustifiable injury or death.” “Failing to prevent” will be deleted.
Milroy also says the felony classifications will be scaled back, to ensure that the punishment will not be more severe than if an offender committed such acts against a person.
The rapidly approaching end of session, on April 22, makes the chances of the bill passing less likely, simply because it’s competing with so many other important matters. It’s been referred to the Assembly’s Committee on Criminal Justice in its current form, where no action is likely to be taken until the Legislative Reference Bureau drafts the amendments Milroy requested.
If it doesn’t pass this session, Milroy plans to reintroduce it next year, assuming he’s re-elected.
The Windchill Bill gives Wisconsin has the opportunity to join 12 other states (including Tennessee, where I currently live, and which rarely is more progressive than Wisconsin on anything) that already empower judges to order pet protection orders. Similar bills are pending in a number of other states.
Philospher Immanuel Kant said well over a century ago, “We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.” It’s time Wisconsin revealed its heart for animals – and human beings – by making the Windchill Bill law.