MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - Humane officials say animal cruelty has been a big problem in our area. They say they have seen animals mistreated and abused; some intentionally tortured. They have also seen many cases where the abuser walks off with what seems to be a simple slap on the wrist.
Humane authorities say, especially now, more and more people are pushing to change that.
"People are tired of seeing the animals hurt and injured and mistreated," said Montgomery Humane Officer Scott Hill. "They experience the same things we do. They experience joy. They experience pain."
Hill said he has seen that pain for more than 6 years as a humane officer. He believes the laws to protect the animals are already in place, but need to be changed.
"We have some pretty strong laws in Alabama. They just need to be stronger," he said.
Mississippi sits at number 47, and the state of Florida took spot number 15.
The rankings are based on animal protection laws, which vary from state to state.
One reason for Alabama's low score, the site said, is the state implemented strong dog fighting laws, but lost points for being one of only 10 states that still makes cockfighting a misdemeanor penalty.
"It's a $50 fine if you get caught cock fighting in Alabama, which is ridiculous," said Officer Hill.
However, at least Alabama has a cockfighting law to begin with. Hill said there are some holes in the law, which benefits the accused abuser.
Such is the case of Eric Easley. He was arrested in 2010 for allegedly raping a miniature horse.
Easley's attorney at the time took an unusual approach to the case.
"I don't know, I don't think that is cruel, is it?" asked attorney Bob Clark.
"Is there a law against that?" he was asked in return.
"I don't know of any law that says you can't do that; you will have to tell me," he said.
Clark has a point.
Easley was only charged with cruelty to animals, which is a misdemeanor, and disabling livestock. That's because there is no specific law in the state of Alabama that says bestiality is a crime.
"It's illegal to sell any type of tape or CD involving bestiality, but it's not against the law to have sex with an animal right now in Alabama," said Officer Hill.
"That had shocked a lot of people that we had no bestiality laws, and there was an instance in Alabama, recently, where the guy just got away," replied Sandra Nathan with Alabama Voters for Responsible Animal Legislation (AVRAL).
Nathan said AVRAL's focus is creating and passing legislation to benefit animal rights. She said their following on Facebook only continues to grow.
"Animals can't vote, but we do, and so we're hopefully trying to be their voice," said Nathan.
She said AVRAL has been working with the Alabama Humane Federation and the Humane Society to pass a package of four animal bills during the current legislative session.
The team effort has gotten a lot of support from state representatives and senators.
"We're working with lawmakers and the bills we are looking to push include a bill to protect spay and neuter clinics, an abuse reporting bill, as well as a bestiality bill and to strengthen penalties cock fighting," said Sonja Presley, Director of the Baldwin County Humane Society, better known as BARC!
FOX10 News went to Montgomery to speak with some of those supporters. Among them is Representative Steve McMillan of District 95.
He said the proposed animal bills are big step for Alabama. Rep. McMillan also believes the animal abuse laws already in place need to change.
The problem he says, is in the wording.
"Abuse to you may not be abuse to me, unless it's just flagrant," he said. "There can be a big gray area, once you get past the flagrant abuse like we saw in Summerdale, for example. "
Rep. McMillan said the Summerdale tragedy was an extreme case of animal abuse. He said the public outcry really helped push for felony charges in that case.
"The average person just doesn't approve it. You know, here is a helpless animal in a cage, and you're starving him to death and not giving him water. That's just inexcusable," said Rep. McMillan.
The felony charges stem from Alabama's Gucci Law, named after a dog beaten and burned nearly to death.
Some legislators, however, said it is not easy to enact. Authorities have to prove intent.
More often than not, humane officials say you get cruelty to a dog or cat, or animal abuse charges.
Both of which are only misdemeanor offenses.
Lawmakers however say it's not easy to charge an abuser with a felony.
Authorities still have to prove intent.
"We would like to see more felony charges – like for Bella's owner because he will likely get a slap on the wrist the way our laws are written," said Sandra Nathan (AVRAL).
James Newbill was arrested and charged with animal cruelty.
Authorities said his dog Bella had been starved and chained outside the home for more than a year.
Humane authorities say they often see animals, specifically dogs, chained up for throughout their lifetime.
Many say they want to see a no-chain law in Alabama.
Officer Hill referenced one dog, whose thick chain collar had been embedded into his neck. Hill said the dog's owner made off with a second degree cruelty charge, another misdemeanor.
"You know, that doesn't just happen overnight," said Hill as he referenced the photograph. "You can actually see where the meat and skin was growing and trying to heal itself around the chain."
He said to charge the owner with a felony, he would have had to prove the owner intended to harm the animal. However, he said the owner argued that he only intended to chain his dog to keep him on the property.
Hill said sometimes it's all a matter of perception and a play at words.
Humane officials said before they can start trying to change the penalties and offenses, its important to first get the public involved in passing current legislation.
"Contact your local lawmakers, contact your mayors, contact your local reps also in your town or city and let them know – ‘Hey, I want you to push this too, I want you to speak up,'" said Officer Hill.
For more information about the package of four bills currently making its way through the House and Senate, click here and scroll down.
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