The penalties for abusing animals in Massachusetts just got a lot tougher. On Tuesday, Gov. Deval Patrick signed into law a bill that increases sentences for cruelty convictions.
Under the new legislation, dubbed the Puppy Doe Bill, maximum sentences for first-time animal cruelty convictions are raised from five to seven years in prison, while more than doubling fines from $2,000 to $5,000. Repeat offenders now face 10 years in prison and fines of up to $10,000 - which makes Massachusetts' new law among the toughest in the nation.
The bill also requires veterinarians to alert authorities if they suspect an animal is being abused.
"It is my hope that the passage of this bill will send a clear message that animal abuse will not be tolerated and that violators will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," Rep. Bruce Ayers, one of the lawmakers who helped draft the bill, told The Patriot Ledger.
The bill takes its name from a dog that had to be euthanized last year after suffering abuse and torture at the hands of his owner, Radoslaw Czerkawski. The case sparked statewide outrage, shining a light on a problem that had until then been ignored.
"Puppy Doe made a large and permanent crack in the status quo," said SPCA spokesperson Rob Halpin, to the Boston Globe. "It's almost like we're in this period in animal cruelty that's ‘before Puppy Doe' and ‘after Puppy Doe.'"
In many parts across the country, animal cruelty laws still lack strong enforcement or penalties. Even among states ranked in the top-tier for providing adequate protections by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, none allow for sentence for first time offenders to exceed five years in prison.
The Puppy Doe Bill comes on the heels of another pioneering decision to protect animals in Massachusetts. Earlier this year, the state's Supreme Court ruled that police were allowed to enter private property without a warrant to help an injured or abused animal - putting the well-being of nonhumans on par with that of people.