New bill aims to impede animal abuse

Posted Feb. 05, 2010, at 8:33 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine has no legal power to prevent animal abusers from repeating the offense after conviction, a prosecutor said Friday as he testified for a bill to bolster the existing law.

The proposal would make abuse of 25 or more animals a felony instead of misdemeanor, meaning penalties would increase. The law also would enable the state to impose probation to help prevent convicted abusers from repeating the crime, York County District Attorney Mark Lawrence told the agriculture committee.

“If you’ve ever seen the evidence in these cases, it’s not something you want to look at,” said Lawrence, a former state Senate president whose prosecutorial district includes the site of one of the state’s most egregious animal cruelty cases.

In 2007, police seized control of an unlicensed kennel in Buxton where roughly 250 dogs and puppies were being kept. Tests showed many of the animals had sarcoptic mange, a contagious disease found in dogs. In many cases multiple animals were kept in single cages.

Sen. Deborah Simpson said the bill she’s sponsoring is focused on hoarders who compulsively collect animals even though they cannot care for them, as well as breeders who neglect their animals. The Auburn Democrat noted that her bill calls for perpetrators to pay the relocation costs of maltreated animals.

The Maine chapter of the Humane Society of the United States and other animal welfare groups support Simpson’s bill, but animal breeders took offense at its original title, which targeted “illegal puppy mill operators.” Simpson asked the committee to broaden the reference to animal abusers.

Breeders also told the committee that they’re wary of giving animal welfare officials more authority over their operations and fear it could lead to limits on how many animals they can keep.

Ann Short of the American Kennel Club, speaking neither for nor against the bill, said Maine already has some of the nation’s toughest laws against animal abuse and neglect.

Lawmakers on the committee will discuss the bill during a workshop in the near future.

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