In Nevada, animal abuse is now charged as a felony, meaning it carries the same weight and potentially the same degree of punishment as a domestic violence conviction.
This new law was put into effect for the first time last month when a pair of Las Vegas teens were tried for drowing two kittens in a cup of water. They were sentenced to thirty days in juvenile detention, plus supervision until they turn 21.
This stiffer sentencing requirement for animal abuse is the result of the passage of “Cooney’s Law,” named after a shelter dog that had been tortured and killed by its owner.
Gina Griesen, President of Nevada Voters for Animals, authored Cooney’s Law. She says that originally Cooney’s abuser – who had tortured and killed the dog with a box cutter - wasn’t even arrested by the police who discovered the crime.
“In fact,” says Griesen, “If it had not been for the animal control officer, that guy would have never gotten the misdemeanor. It wasn’t until the animal control officer actually pushed for a request for prosecution that the guy was even arrested later on.”
Greisen says she will push for even stricter penalties for juvenile perpetrators of animal abuse, but acknowledges that children who abuse animals are often the product of their environment. She says that was the case with the teens that drowned the kitten.
“They lived in a home where the dad thought it was OK. There were weapons in the home,” says Griesen. “If the parents think it’s OK, and that’s the way the kids were raised, then they don’t see that they’ve done anything wrong.”
Animal control officer Victor Perea agrees that where an animal is abused, a culture of abuse is often pervasive throughout the home.
“We’ll a lot of times show up because a neighbor saw an animal get injured, then we show up and one of the spouses has a black eye, one of the kids has a black eye,” says Perea. "Clearly it’s not just the animal, it’s just (the animal abuse that) was seen.”
Although it is unsurprising that people who are abusers of humans are also abusers of dogs, it’s actuallly not the torturers of animals who are the most frequent subjects of complaint to the Humane Society, but rather pet owners who are “loving the animals to death.”
“I think that animal hoarding absolutely has to fall under the animal cruelty laws for a number of reasons,” says the Humane Society’s Adam Parascandola. “It’s probably the most common of all the complaints we receive here at the humane society, even more than puppy mills.”
Parascandola believes animal hoarders should be monitored and a limit placed on how many animals they can own, while Griesen believes that animal hoarders should be kept away from animals entirely and receive psychological treatment.