April 18, 2024 11:27 am

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Washington is one step closer to holding animal abusers accountable

OLYMPIA—Justice for animals against their abusers moves one step closer within Washington state with the near unanimous passage in House of Representatives on January 29 of HB- 1961, a bill that would strengthen penalties for the most egregious acts of animal cruelty.

“Inconsistency in sentencing only benefits abusers. House Bill 1961 would establish a clear legal framework for these horrific cases, ensuring those who inflict suffering on defenseless animals face consequences that reflect the severity of their crimes,” said Sam Low (R-Lake Stevens), the bill’s primary sponsor. “Washington state should always stand for justice and compassion for all living beings. Through this bill, we have an opportunity to give a voice to the voiceless and deter future acts of cruelty. I am grateful for today’s vote and look forward to seeing the same outcome in the Senate.”

The House voted 95-1 to pass the bill with Representative Mike Chapman (D-Port Angeles) as the lone dissenting vote.

animal abusers
Representative Sam Low (R-Lake Stevens) speaking on the House Floor on January 29, 2024, about HB-1961. SOURCE: Snapshot from TVW.

Under current law, judges have wide discretion in sentencing for certain acts of animal cruelty, which can lead to inconsistent and insufficient penalties for abusers. House Bill 1961 would classify all acts of Animal Cruelty in the First Degree (RCW 16.52.205) as a seriousness level III offense. Only animal cruelty involving sexual conduct currently meets this threshold.

During his floor speech, Low opened by thanking Pasado’s Safe Haven, a Sultan-based animal sanctuary and advocacy organization with whom he worked closely to get the bill introduced prior to session. The organization also testified in support of the bill on January 8 when it received a public hearing.

Low shared that his bill would provide a clear and consistent sentencing framework for judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys.

Representative Chris Stearns (D-Auburn), during the floor debate, thanked Low for bringing the legislation forward and shared his experience witnessing many animal abusers “not being prosecuted the way they should” for their involvement in illegal dog fights.

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.

House Bill 1961 now heads to the Senate for further consideration.

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