New Florida law could keep abusers away from animals

Law signed by governor increases penalties for animal cruelty charges

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Increased penalties for animal abusers in Florida will take effect later this year under legislation signed by Gov. Rick Scott.

In addition to a greater chance of going to jail, abusers could also be barred from having contact with animals.

Kate McFall with the Humane Society said the tragic death of Ponce, a 9-month-old Labrador retriever, sparked outrage in the community after his owner was accused of gagging and killing the dog because he said the dog bit him.

“So the public is behind this. It was a wave of support,” McFall said of changing the law to increase penalties for such abuse.

That outrage resulted in Ponce’s Law, signed by Scott on National Puppy Day. The law raises felony animal cruelty from a level 3 to a level 5 offense -- putting it on the same par with selling cocaine.

While the increase doesn’t guarantee an offender does time in prison, it makes it more likely if other charges are combined.

“It's a predictor. People who commit animal cruelty are very, very likely to commit cruelty or violence to humans, children,” McFall said. “In the coming years, we will see even more and more momentum to perhaps make this a second-degree felony.”

The law also gives judges the option to prohibit users from owning or even having contact with animals for a period of time.

McFall said enforcing those court orders will take community involvement.

“People, advocates, just neighbors, people in the community, if you see something just say something,” McFall said.

Ponce's owner was charged with felony animal cruelty and is awaiting trial. He faces up to five years in prison.

The bill signed by Scott also includes new requirements for animal shelters in the state to take extra steps to locate owners of lost pets after hurricanes.