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Friday, March 21, 2014

State by State, the March of Progress for Animals

If you live in West Virginia, the days of having a tiger or chimpanzee in the house next door are coming to a close. Today Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signed legislation making West Virginia the 45th state to set restrictions on the private ownership of dangerous exotic animals such as big cats, primates, bears, wolves, and large constricting and venomous snakes.

A cougar next door? Tonka the cougar was a victim of the exotic pet trade. The person who bought him didn't know how to care for him. He arrived at The Fund for Animals Wildlife Center with diminished eyesight due to his improper diet.

Passage of the bill in the legislature was led by HSUS West Virginia State Director Summer Wyatt, who told West Virginia MetroNews, “With us being one of only six states with zero regulations that means zero caging regulations, zero insurance for these animals, zero veterinary regulations. That can get really scary for human and animal health.”

The new policy is a major step forward for animal welfare and public safety, and leaves just five states—Alabama, Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Wisconsin—with virtually no restrictions. We are redoubling our efforts in all of those states, until no state is a refuge for reckless individuals who keep dangerous predators in their bedrooms and basements and threaten the safety of the animals as well as the community at large.

Additionally, last week, South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard signed legislation enacting felony-level penalties for both malicious animal cruelty and cockfighting. It has long been a priority goal for The HSUS and HSLF to have felony cruelty statutes in all 50 states, and with South Dakota’s action, our entire nation now treats animal abuse as more than just a slap on the wrist. The bill also made South Dakota the 41st state with felony cockfighting penalties, leaving only nine states with weak misdemeanor statutes for staged animal combat.

The stage for enactment of this measure was set after a 2012 ballot initiative in neighboring North Dakota that we launched to make that state the 49th to adopt felony-level penalties for cruelty to animals. Voters there rejected the measure, but only after our adversaries promised to enact an even more comprehensive cruelty statute in the legislature. That bill was passed in 2013, and then with South Dakota remaining alone among the states, a broad coalition of stakeholders including veterinarians, livestock groups, and animal welfare advocates, got the job done this year. HSUS South Dakota State Director Darci Adams called it “a great day for South Dakota’s animals.”

It’s an even greater day when you think about the gaps in the legal framework that existed for animals just a quarter-century ago. In the mid-1980s, only four states had felony-level penalties for malicious cruelty, only about a dozen had felony dogfighting laws, and only about a half-dozen had felony cockfighting—which was even still legal in a number of states. And just ten years ago, only half the states had restrictions on the private ownership of dangerous exotic pets. Today, with felony cruelty and felony dogfighting laws in all 50 states, cockfighting banned in all 50 and a felony in 41, and exotic pet bans in 45 states, we are marching closer to the day when we have national policies on the most abusive and reckless practices.



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