April 20, 2024 1:36 pm

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Low introduces bill to increase penalties for animal cruelty

LAKE STEVENS—Representative Sam Low (R-Lake Stevens) has pre-filed legislation to strengthen penalties for the most egregious acts of animal cruelty in Washington state.

The bill seeks to address a significant hole in current law, where judges have wide discretion in sentencing for certain forms of animal cruelty, leading to inconsistencies and potentially insufficient penalties for heinous acts.

House Bill 1961 would rectify this disparity by reclassifying all forms of Animal Cruelty in the First Degree (RCW 16.52.205) as an Offense Seriousness Level (OSL) III crime. As it stands, only the act of animal cruelty involving sexual conduct is classified as OSL III. By standardizing penalties across all forms of Animal Cruelty in the First Degree, the bill would establish a clear and consistent sentencing framework for judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys.

“The current sentencing disparity for different types of animal cruelty sends a mixed message that some forms of barbarity are acceptable while others are not,” said Low. “This legislation would provide much-needed uniformity and certainty to the justice system, ensuring appropriate penalties for anyone who chooses to inflict suffering on defenseless animals.”

The reclassification to OSL III would result in a standard sentencing range of 1-3 months in county jail for a first-time offender with no prior record, increasing to 9-12 months for offenders with higher criminal scores. This aligns with penalties for other serious offenses and reflects the gravity of Animal Cruelty in the First Degree.

During the interim, Low and Pasado’s Safe Haven, a Sultan-based animal sanctuary and advocacy organization, worked together on refining the bill’s language.

“I want to express my deepest gratitude to the individuals at Pasado’s Safe Haven for collaborating with me on House Bill 1961,” added Low. “Their expertise and unwavering dedication to ending animal cruelty were guiding lights in shaping this legislation, which I look forward to seeing on the governor’s desk next year.”

Since August of 2023, a total of six deceased dogs alone have been found by law enforcement working with the Yakima County Sheriff’s Office, all of which exhibited signs consistent with abuse and neglect. Pasado’s brought each of these dogs in for necropsies to determine the type and level of abuse these animals suffered in hopes of finding new leads.

animal cruelty
Pictures of the horrific killings of dogs in Yakima being investigated by Pasado’s Safe Haven and PETA. SOURCE: Rasado’s Safe Haven.

“Beyond our recovery efforts associated with these killings, we are seeing a disturbing rise in the number of dog abuse, abandonment, and neglect cases in Yakima County overall,” said Cynthia Wang, Executive Director of Pasado’s Safe Haven. “We are doing what we can to respond quickly and save the animals, but our sanctuary is at capacity. We’re stretching ourselves to make space for the increase in dogs needing homes.”

Pasado’s Safe Haven investigates animal cruelty crimes and provides rehabilitation and sanctuary to those who have suffered from abuse or neglect. The organization advocates for better laws to protect animals and educate the public about how we can end animal suffering together.

The 2024 legislative session will begin January 8, 2024.

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