Bill Would Lead to Stricter Punishments for Animal Abuse
MADISON, WI (OnFocus) – Last week, Kaitlin Loberg from the Marshfield Area Pet Shelter and Officer Bob Larsen from the Marshfield Police Department traveled to Madison in support of AB 368, nicknamed the “Puppy Bill,” which strengthens animal abuse laws in Wisconsin.
In the wake of nine newborn puppies being found outside in a garbage bag in freezing temperatures in Marshfield in 2019, Representative John Spiros (86-R) drafted this legislation to make animal abuse a Class I felony if the person knows or reasonably should know that the abuse may result in grievous bodily harm to of the death of the animal.
In the case of the nine “dumpster puppies,” Robert Wilde received a fine and 30 days in jail, but could have faced harsher penalties if any of the newborn puppies had died.
“I wanted to testify because I was so close to the situation being the investigating officer and being the officer who took them out of the garbage,” said Larsen, who serves as a Marshfield Animal Control/Humane Officer. “I wanted to make a point of how horrific the situation was and what it was like to see them and hear their little cries. They needed to hear it so they could visualize what I actually saw.”
“When this happened two years ago it was devastating to find out that all the work I did to save those puppies meant that he was not charged with a felony,” added Loberg. “Everything about that felt wrong and made me question our entire judicial system. Laws are already so lenient in regard to animal abuse and judges, district attorneys and prosecutors don’t seem to take these situations seriously. I wanted to go there and explain to the committee members that it doesn’t just effect the animals, it effects the thousands of animal welfare workers who have to deal with animal abusers frequently.”
Larsen and Loberg answered several questions during the hearing, the most prevalent of which involved how the proposed law would be better than the current law.
“That answer to that is simply this; it will be better than current law because the penalties will be stricter. Thus, if a person violates this proposed law, death does not have to occur to make it a felony, but rather the actions of an offender only need to be so egregious that the person knows or should know that their actions may result in grievous harm or death,” he explained. “There is also a provision in the bill that would mandate a judge to implement a penalty prohibiting the offender from owning or residing with animals for up to 15 years if it is a felony. Current law says the judge MAY assess that penalty.”
“A lot of the response we were getting from the committee members was how this bill won’t make a difference because judges and prosecutors would still be able to be lenient on the defendants,” said Loberg. “They were astounded to find out just how lenient the judge was in this case but were quick to say the bill wouldn’t make a difference. They also called it a ‘feel-good bill that wouldn’t accomplish much.'”
Despite this reaction, Larsen and Loberg both hope the bill is actually passed as a law.
“In response to their assertions that this bill wouldn’t make a difference, I would respond that there were ten other animal welfare professionals who traveled to Madison that day to also testify and show their support for the bill,” said Loberg. “To us here at MAPS and the thousands of other animal welfare professionals throughout Wisconsin this bill would make a huge difference.”
“This will help all of law enforcement from the investigating officers to the attorneys, DA’s to Judges. I hope that the law strengthening will show all that these things are taken seriously and hopefully cut down on plea bargains,” said Larsen. “If a plea bargain does happen, my hope is that the end result will still be a penalty and sentence that is greater than our current law.”
Loberg added that the bill becoming law would be a positive step for animal welfare advocates.
“Yes, judges may still choose to be lenient and DA’s may still make plea deals but aside from that, this bill means a lot to us. The work we do daily is extremely difficult and heartbreaking and emotionally draining. Passing this bill will show animal welfare professionals that they are heard and can make a difference and that may help someone keep going when they feel defeated,” said Loberg.
“It makes us feel like there is a light at the end of the tunnel, change is coming and animal abusers are going to start getting what they deserve,” she added. “That is a huge impact on our career field and is well worth the effort of passing a bill. Aside from that, the bill also changes the law so that in cases like these puppies, the judge MUST have the animals removed from the person’s custody which would already be a massive improvement.”
“I commend Rep. John Spiros for taking the initiative to introduce this bill. It should have Bi-Partisan support. I cannot imaging how someone could not be for a bill that makes these crimes a felony with stricter penalties,” said Larsen.
To learn more about this bill or to express support, please contact your representative.
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