State Politics

Why Mississippi doesn’t have tougher animal-cruelty laws

Why aren’t there more penalties for animal abuse?

Mississippi State Rep. David Baria talks about the difficulties of passing a law that would have stricter penalties in animal abuse cases. Two videos have gone viral this week on the Coast that appear to show instances of animal abuse.
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Mississippi State Rep. David Baria talks about the difficulties of passing a law that would have stricter penalties in animal abuse cases. Two videos have gone viral this week on the Coast that appear to show instances of animal abuse.

In a video, a caged cat writhes in pain as a steaming liquid is poured on it by a person who is out of the picture. The video went viral.

Wednesday, the cat was found dead under a house near where police believe the scalding took place. They say they have a person of interest in the case.

Meanwhile, animal lovers are incensed and are calling for tougher laws on animal cruelty.

But the last Coast lawmaker who tried that says extremists on both sides of the issue make toughening the state’s laws all but impossible. People favoring harsher penalties often want too broad a law and that causes lawmakers in the rural parts of the state to resist any change.

“It’s hard for people in the city to realize it’s different in the country,” said Sen. Sean Tindell of Gulfport, whose attempt to revise the law on animal cruelty died in committee in February. He said people in rural areas who own hunting dogs often keep them outdoors in pens. He said those hunters oppose any change in the law for fear they could be charged over how they care for their dogs.

Tindell said his highest priority is to help the state’s children through upgrades to the state’s child-protection laws.

A video going viral on Facebook appears to show a cat being scalded with hot liquid in Moss Point.

On the other side, the national Humane Society, which backs stricter animal-cruelty laws, is viewed with suspicion because its representatives come from outside Mississippi, said Rep. Scott DeLano, R-Biloxi.

DeLano said the Farm Bureau and pro-hunting groups argued any change would be a slippery slope to restrictions on cattle farming or hunting.

He would favor giving local governments the option to pass tougher laws.

“Why not give the sheriff the opportunity to work with the board of supervisors to come up with a law that works for that area?” he said. “This shouldn’t be a statewide issue. Let them work it out locally.”

Like Tindell, DeLano said he has higher priorities — better DUI laws, for example.

Rep. David Baria, D-Bay St. Louis, said attempts to change animal-cruelty laws are often unfairly framed as liberal.

“There’s one lawmaker whom I won’t name who asks me if I’m going to file the chicken-fighting bill,” said Baria, who said the lawmaker told him it helps him politically to be seen voting against such laws.

Mississippi last changed its law in 2011. It’s a misdemeanor with a fine of up to $1,000 and a sentence of up to six months in prison to “deprive of adequate shelter, food or water, or carry or confine in a cruel manner, any domesticated dog or cat, or cause any person to do the same, then he or she shall be guilty of the offense of simple cruelty to a dog or cat.”

The law also raises the stakes for aggravated animal cruelty. That law says that is when “a person with malice shall intentionally torture, mutilate, maim, burn, starve or disfigure any domesticated dog or cat, or cause any person to do the same.” That carries a fine up up to $2,500 and six months in prison. A second offense within five years could double the penalty.

Paul Hampton: 228-896-2330, @JPaulHampton

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