BOSTON -- Animal rights activists and a bipartisan group of lawmakers, citing the alleged torture of a dog nicknamed "Puppy Doe," called Thursday for tougher penalties against those convicted of cruelty against animals.
"It’s time that we took a serious look at the laws that are intended to protect our animal friends and do what we can in a comprehensive way to prevent those kinds of heinous, brutal acts from occurring in the future," said Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, the lead sponsor of the so-called PAWS bill, prior to a hearing of the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee. PAWS is short for "Protecting Animal Welfare and Safety."
In addition to calling for stiffer fines and increased prison sentences for animal cruelty, the bill also would create a statewide registry of people who have been convicted of abuse and make the list available for inspection by animal shelters, pet stores and breeders.
The "Puppy Doe" case involved a year-old female dog, part pit bull, that was euthanized after being found barely alive on a playground in Quincy last year. Police said the dog had been beaten and tortured.
Radoslaw Czerkawsi, who prosecutors said was living in Massachusetts on an expired visa, was later arrested and charged with a dozen counts of animal abuse and one count of misleading police. He was ordered held on $500,000 bail after pleading not guilty at his arraignment last October.
"That dog suffered from sadistic torture," said Mary Nee, president of the Animal Rescue League of Boston. But less severe instances also merit stronger punishment, she added.
The PAWS legislation would impose prison sentences of up to five years along with fines of up to $10,000. The maximum fine currently is $2,500, which is among the lowest in the nation, said Kara Holmquist, an attorney for the Massachusetts Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Repeat offenders would face harsher consequences under the proposal: five to 10 years in prison and fines of up to $20,000. Additionally, cases with aggravating factors, such as the abuse of multiple animals or abuse occurring in the presence of a child, could bring five more years of prison time.
Supporters said many of the state’s animal protection laws had not been updated in more than a century, although the Legislature in 2004 did approve a law that added to the categories of abuse considered felonies.
"Animal lovers aren’t Democrats, they aren’t Republicans, they’re just animal lovers," said Rep. Josh Cutler, D-Duxbury, one of several Democrats who joined Tarr, the Senate Republican leader, in supporting the bill.
Yet despite the bipartisan backing and absence of organized opposition, Tarr acknowledged that passage would be difficult given the sheer volume of legislation still pending on Beacon Hill before the current session ends July 31. The Judiciary Committee has yet to act on nearly 800 bills assigned to the panel for review.