HARTFORD-- A bill advancing in the state legislature would hand down stiffer punishments for animal abuse offenders convicted more than once.
Advocates say it sends a strong message about the importance of protecting animals in Connecticut.
The proposed bill approved in the state Senate Tuesday subjects repeat offenders to a class C felony, punishable by one to 10 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines. They would not be allowed to receive accelerated rehabilitation, a pre-trial program that enables people to avoid a conviction.
The current law punishes repeat offenders with a class D felony, punishable by one to five years in prison and up to $5,000 in fines, and offenders are eligible for the accelerated rehabilitation program.
"We've had a real upswing recently and it seems like we've be dealing with it more with neglect and abuse," said Middletown Animal Control Officer Gail Petras.
Office Petras introduced Fox CT to a dog named Spanky, who is now under the control of Animal Control after his owner abused him. He now faces charges, but Petras says too many offenders get away too easily.
Officer Petris hopes stiffer penalties would deter anyone from abusing an animal, even just once.
"Someone should have to answer that. You shouldn't get to walk away and say sorry," Petras said.
Supporters say the bill was inspired in-part because of many complaints by animal rights groups that offenders would get off easily after the second animal cruelty offense.
"We're going to treat these crimes with the seriousness they deserve," said state Sen. Ted Kennedy Jr.
Kennedy points to a number of high profile animal abuse cases, including one against a Branford man in his district, Alex Wullaer, 22, who was charged in 2012 with animal cruelty after police found his pit bull named Desmond mutilated and stuffed in a plastic bag.
Wullaer was granted accelerated rehabilitation, and was placed on probation until April 2015. After completing probation, the felony animal cruelty charge was expunged from his record, according to the "Justice for Desmond" Facebook page.
"The most vicious type of crimes--manning, mutilating, killing animals are let off scott-free," Kennedy said.
The state of Connecticut prosecutes roughly 350 animal cruelty cases a year, and the Connecticut Humane Society says crimes against animals can often signal violent behaviors toward humans.
"There are people who will abuse animals the first time and if not corrected they will abuse animals a second time and the fear is they will also perpetrate abuse on humans," said Gordon Willard, executive director of the Connecticut Humane Society.
The bill will next come for a vote in the House, and if it is signed by the governor, it would go into effect on October 1, 2015.