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New law cracks down on animal abuse

Date: 8/28/2014

BOSTON – Gov. Deval Patrick signed the Act Protecting Animal Welfare and Safety (PAWS) bill into law on Aug. 20, which will raise the maximum prison sentence from five to seven years for first-time animal abuse offenders when the law goes into effect in less than 90 days.

There were 300 cases of animal abuse investigated in Hampden County in 2013, Laura Hagen, deputy director of advocacy for the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA), said.

“All of this work was completed by just two officers,” she explained. “The current department chief worked on the road in Hampden County for years and still does investigations in the area when the two Western Massachusetts officers need assistance.”

Animals residing in Hampden County municipal and private shelters that need advanced medical care and surgery are taken to the Angell Animal Medical Center and are later placed for adoption from MSPCA animal care and adoption centers, Hagen said.

“For example, in 2013, two surrendered horses went to our Methuen adoption center, as did one donkey from Palmer,” she added. “Fifteen cats from Palmer and 30 from Ludlow went to Boston, as did three puppies. Thirty-one petting zoo animals from Ludlow went to Methuen.”

In the past six months, MSPCA Officer Christine Allenberg has responded to 323 complaints, made 122 written citations, conducted 366 rechecks and has been to court 76 for cases in Hampden County, Hagen said.

Kara Holmquist, director of advocacy for the MSPCA, said the recently approved PAWS bill will not only ensure that harsher punishments befit the crimes of animal abuse, but will also work proactively to ensure that abuse doesn’t happen.

Animal abuse may also be an indicator of potential future violent acts against human beings, she added.

The PAWS law increases the maximum fine from $2,500 to $5,000 and also allows a penalty of up to 10 years imprisonment and or a fine of $10,000 for repeat convictions. The bill also requires veterinarians to report any suspected animal abuse.

State Rep. Angelo Puppolo Jr. for the 12th Hampden District, said the new law will bring about the creation of a task force comprised of experts in the fields of law enforcement, animal protection, and veterinary medicine.

“This bill took over a year to pass,” Puppolo said. “My intention of supporting and co-sponsoring the original version of this legislation in the House was because Massachusetts maintained some of the most lenient fines in the nation relative to animal cruelty. I supported it during the legislative process and worked with my colleagues to get a final version passed.”

Last year, a dog named “Puppy Doe” was euthanized after it had been found severely tortured and beaten in Quincy, a major incident that prompted the legislation of this bill, he said.

Another local incident this year was the arrest of Ludlow native Dean Manuel, who is facing 36 counts of animal cruelty for allegedly starving and neglecting animals on his property, Puppolo added.

Additionally, an animal cruelty case against a man in Hatfield accused of maiming a neighbor’s dog with a slingshot was brought up this year as well.

“I support anything we can do to stop animal abuse and we’ve had people come to the state house a couple times advocating for obviously animal rights,” State Rep. Brian Ashe of the 2nd Hampden District, said. “This is just one of those common sense laws too.”