‘Domesticated’ throws kink in animal bill

Published 12:40 am Sunday, February 20, 2011

In what is shaping up to be the “Let’s try to help those who cannot help themselves” session of the Mississippi Legislature, an animal cruelty bill is progressing through the state Senate.

Under the bill, a person could be charged with aggravated cruelty for torturing, mutilating, maiming, burning, starving, disfiguring or killing a domesticated dog or cat. Anyone convicted of a crime can be sentenced to one to five years in the pokey.

Pay careful attention to the word “domesticated.” Merriam-Webster defines domesticated like so: as to adapt (an animal or plant) to life in intimate association with and to the advantage of humans.

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On one end of the country road where I live is a pack of 15 to 20 “wild” dogs. They readily can be seen sunning themselves near pine trees on the side of a hill in front of a trailer. They are “wild” because they have no collars and stay outside exclusively, but they also are domesticated because they interact with the residents and they are well-fed.

Then again, I watched an entire pack of those same dogs harassing livestock in the pasture across the road. Should the cattle owner have the right to shoot those dogs to keep his animals safe?

The House Agriculture Committee on Friday passed an amended bill that would provide exceptions for killing animals to protect livestock. No matter what bill passes, it is not likely a one-size-fits-all solution

The spirit of the law is true — don’t abuse dogs and cats. Forty-six states have animal cruelty laws. Much of the pushback in Mississippi has been from rural farmers and land owners, who, rightfully, have concerns about their animals. And like many other laws, enforcement will be difficult, but for those who do get caught beating, torturing or killing animals, the penalties should have some bite.

Take one walk through the Vicksburg-Warren Humane Society with Georgia Lynn, or talk to Leigh Wilson Conerly at PAWS Rescue and see firsthand what violence against animals can produce. The levels to which humans can sink is shocking

A bill is warranted, but it has to be one to fit this state. It has to be one to differentiate between domesticated Cali the Dog — sleeping on the couch, eating T-bone steak and waiting for her owner to walk into the rain before she does — and a domesticated pack of dogs on the side of a country road harassing livestock.

Therein lies the difficulty — crafting a bill that satisfies the dog and cat lover, as well as those who tend to a pasture full of equally-as-helpless cows.

Sean P. Murphy is web editor. He can be reached at smurphy@vicksburgpost.com