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ANIMAL CRUELTY LAW; An in depth look at Mississippi's Legislative Efforts

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ANIMAL CRUELTY LAW; An indepth look at Mississippi's Legislative Efforts ANIMAL CRUELTY LAW; An indepth look at Mississippi's Legislative Efforts
Mississippi - There is good news and bad news when it comes to laws protecting Mississippi’s dogs and cats.  We are very fortunate to have one of the strongest dog fighting laws in the United States.  But, outside of dog fighting, Mississippi's animal cruelty law ranks next to last in the nation.  Only South Dakota is worse.

Animal advocates say it is time to catch up with the rest of the country and be good stewards of the animals we share the planet with.

We want to warn that some of the video may be disturbing to some viewers.

"I’m in a truck with a Rankin County Sheriff's deputy.  We are traveling to a wooded area where they have gotten a tip that there are pit bulls chained up to trees.  We are going to check it out.  We’ll see what we find,” explains News Channel 12’s Melanie Christopher.

We hear dogs barking before we see them.  The first dog we come upon is large with obvious scars, more frightened than aggressive.  And, then, five young pit bulls greet us with wagging tails despite the enormous heavy chains attached to them.

After 19 years in law enforcement, 12 in Animal Control, Rankin County Deputy Sheriff Ken Sullivan has seen a lot.

Christopher: “How heavy is the chain?”

Sullivan: “Very.”

Christopher: “So, that’s evidence?”

Sullivan: "It is.  The chain weighs more than the dog.  It’s to build their leg strength up so they can pull more weight."

There are dogs like these all over the state of Mississippi hidden in back woods.  They all face a very uncertain future.  This is one battlefield in the war on animal cruelty.

"It appears to me to be a young dog,” adds Sullivan.

This is the other.  Will this be the year lawmakers pass a tougher animal cruelty bill?

"People are fed up with it being treated as unimportant, that it doesn't matter.  And, people just don't want to put up with that anymore.  I think they are going to make sure their voices are heard, whatever that takes," explains Lydia Sattler of the Mississippi Division Humane Society.

Sattler says Bill 2777 strengthens the existing dog and cat protection law making it actually do what it's supposed to. 

"I know when we did the 2011 cruelty law, Farm Bureau I know we made a compromise.  It wasn't great for us, it wasn't exactly what we wanted, it wasn't exactly what they wanted, but we agreed we wouldn't touch it for three years.  Well, three years is up, we've seen where the problems are in the law,” continues Sattler.

Bill  2277 takes away the current exemptions for an animal cruelty charge and removes the part of the current law that says you can only charge one count per incident.

The 2013 puppy mill raid in Tylertown is a prime example of the latter, says Sattler.

"There was one dog decaying in a cage with a live animal.  Bones and dogs dead everywhere, I mean, it was a horrific, horrific scene and this man has received one misdemeanor count,” recalls Sattler.  "He basically laughed about even having to be drug into court."

Sullivan agrees that being able to charge only per incident instead of per animal is a law without enough teeth.

When the owner arrived on the scene in Rankin County, he could only be charged with one count of animal cruelty, even though there were six dogs.

"It doesn't matter how many animals are there.  Whether there is one animal or 50 animals, there is still just one count of animal cruelty,” Sullivan tells News Channel 12.

Sattler tells us she’s sure Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation is going to be opposing this bill.  It’s an insurance company 198 thousand members strong.

Rankin County Farmer, Randy Knight, leads Farm Bureau.  When contacted by News Channel 12 and asked if his group supports the stronger legislation to protect Mississippi’s dogs and cats, he said, "We support the compromise we had three years ago.  And, that's all I want to say about it."

"The general public really has a problem with understanding how a dog and cat only legislation has anything to do with affecting farmers, especially when we are looking at egregious, dangerous people we are trying to protect animals and humans from,” adds Sattler.  "The only way to change the law is to let the legislature know this is what the people are asking of them. And, it's important to them."

Many people have asked about the fate of the dogs recovered in Rankin County.  Sullivan tells us they will be going to the Shaw Pit Bull Rescue in Columbus, Miss.  There they will be neutered and spayed, and put up for adoption.
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