I’ve recently read many posts from Facebook friends about their love of their pets – and also about horrible examples of animal cruelty. My family has always included dogs and I’m reminded of the 2013 “Patrick’s Law,” which increased the penalties for animal abuse. The law was named after Patrick, a young dog who was severely neglected, almost starved to death, and found in a bag that was thrown down a garbage chute by his owner. Although Patrick survived and was rescued, his owner did not face particularly harsh penalties for her horrible acts. The dog’s suffering and the lack of justice demonstrated a need in New Jersey to treat extreme animal neglect with the severity that it deserves.
Under Patrick’s Law, starving or otherwise abusing an animal is a fourth degree crime, instead of a disorderly persons offense, which it was before. An owner will be charged with a third degree offense if the abuse causes the animal’s death. The law increased fines from $1,000 to $3,000 for a first offense and range between $3,000 and $5,000 for any further crimes. Also, a person now can be charged with a disorderly offense if found guilty of overworking an animal, which can carry a fine of $250 to $1,000 and a jail sentence of up to six months.
Although the law was a milestone for animal protection, there’s still room for improvement. For example, it penalizes cases of “unnecessary cruelty,” which assumes that there is some level of “acceptable cruelty,” probably in situations where an animal, like a horse, works. Also, monetary restitution for an animal’s death seems to reinforce the idea that these animals are nothing other than property of their owners or handlers.
How can we in New Jersey improve on animal cruelty laws? We can start by looking to other states and how they are strengthening their animal cruelty laws. For instance, in Tennessee, there will be online posting of a list of convicted animal abusers, similar to a sex offender registry. Not only will this publicize the abusers and create additional social pressure to treat animals properly, it will recognize animals as companions deserving of dignity, safety and respect. With the collaboration of Kieu-Nhi Le, Rutgers School of Law Newark candidate for a JD degree in May 2016. She is the Managing Business Editor of the Rutgers Computer and Technology Law Journal.