Ponce's Law adds stiffer penalties for convicted animal abusers

The law allows judges to ban abusers in Florida from keeping or owning pets

By Garrett Pelican - Digital executive producer, Zachery Lashway - Reporter/anchor

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Mike Merrill has seen his share of animal abuse. As founder of Florida Urgent Rescue, he's spent the last three years of his life rescuing pets from cruelty and neglect. 

But nothing prepared him for the sight of Duchess, a stray American Bulldog mix found Friday in Putnam County with an open wound across her throat, an injury inflicted by a tight collar.

"She looked like her neck was cut open with a machete and you could see her jugular vein," said Merrill. "It was that bad."

Though the dog’s injuries were gruesome, it’s not the first time Merrill has seen a badly wounded pet. But he’s hopeful that a new state law will help crack down on animal abuse.

SLIDESHOW: Abandoned dog found with neck sliced open by collar

The measure, called Ponce’s Law, took effect Monday. Not only does it make defendants more likely to face jail time, the law also gives judges the option of banning abusers from owning pets.

The law takes its name from Ponce, a Labrador retriever puppy beaten to death last year in Ponce Inlet. The dog’s owner, Travis Archer, is still awaiting trial on a felony animal cruelty charge.

Merrill said the new law is a “big step forward” when it comes to punishing abusers. But, he noted, it is only as good as the criminal justice system in charge of enforcing it.

He cited the case of a Jacksonville man who was arrested after neighbors reported seeing him stuff six puppies in a pillow case and cram them into a storm drain

Court records show the man avoided conviction after pleading no contest to one of six animal abandonment counts. The rest of the charges were dropped.

“If the state attorney declines to prosecute, then the tougher law doesn’t help solve the problem,” said Merrill.

As for Duchess, he suspects her injuries were caused by an embedded collar, which he said often happens when a puppy is tethered at a young age and its  collar is never adjusted.

“We’ve had a lot of cases where the injuries were caused by humans. In Duchess’ case, I don’t think it was deliberate,” he said. “It was a case of severe neglect.”

Fortunately, a Good Samaritan spotted the eight- to 10-month-old puppy Friday and alerted animal control officers, who rushed the dog to the veterinarian for surgery.

“She’s got staples and stitches in her neck,” said Merrill. “But we’re hoping that with proper love and care, she will make a full recovery.”

To protect her wounds, Duchess will be wearing a sweater as she heals.

Anyone who would like to help Duchess or Florida Urgent Rescue is encouraged to visit the organization’s website and click on the ‘Donate’ tab.

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