With the signing of a bill on Nov. 25, President Donald Trump put into law the first major, widespread federal ban on animal cruelty — a bipartisan effort known as the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act.
This new law, which had support from Democrats and Republicans alike in both the House and Senate, makes certain acts of cruelty to animals felony offenses punishable by fines and prison sentences of up to seven years.
Actions that are outlawed include deliberate crushing, burning, drowning, suffocation, impalement or other violence that causes “serious bodily injury” to animals.
The PACT Act, as it’s known, allows for prosecution of animal cruelty violations across state lines and complements federal laws that already ban such practices as animal fighting as a “sport.”
It also takes aim at a relatively recent disgusting development made more prevalent through the use of smartphone video cameras — videos that depict sick behaviors toward helpless animals, which are then shared on social media. Animal rights activists say that “animal crushing” videos are among the most “popular” of these disgusting depictions.
Virginia, Tennessee and other states do have their own laws against animal cruelty, although they vary in scope and severity of punishment. But the PACT Act is the first uniform set of rules that apply across all 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories.
There are some exceptions under the act, though, and these should be addressed at the state level. They include “exemptions for humane euthanasia; slaughter for food; recreational activities such as hunting, trapping and fishing; medical and scientific research; ‘normal veterinary, agricultural husbandry, or other animal management practice’; and actions that are necessary ‘to protect the life or property of a person,’” according to a Washington Post report on the new law.
That brings us to a problem the Bristol Herald Courier addressed this week in a story titled, “‘Hounded’ & homeless: Hunting season brings uptick in injured, abused hound dogs needing homes, legal protection.”
Appalachian songwriter, poet laureate and performer Billy Edd Wheeler mentioned hunting dogs in his noteworthy early 1960s tribute to the backyard privy, “Ode to the Little Brown Shack Out Back,” in which he sang:
“It was not so long ago that I went tripping through the snow, out to that house behind my old hound dog, where I’d sit me down to rest, like a snowbird on her nest, and read the Sears and Roebuck catalog …”
We still see the kind of hound dog Wheeler referred to frequently in Appalachia — working dogs, used for hunting, who are kept in pens out in the backyard and generally taken out only when it’s time to go hunting.
Now, we’re not about to criticize this age-old practice of keeping and using hound dogs for hunting. We’d just like for those who have these working dogs to keep them safe and well cared for.
The newspaper’s story, however, told a disturbing tale of abuse of these beautiful creatures that occur (we hope) in only a small minority of their population.
According to the story, Animal Shelter of Sullivan County Executive Director Cindy Holmes “is seeing an uptick in injured hound dogs being brought to the shelter now that hunting season is underway, and programs to help community animals are in full swing.”
Hounds running at large are being found by residents and animal control, Holmes told the newspaper. She advocated for better treatment of “working dogs” in a recent interview with the Bristol Herald Courier, adding that some of these dogs are suffering because of “utter neglect.”
“There should be laws that protect working animals — that they have rules that you can’t hunt them when they’re injured to the point that they need surgery,” Holmes said. “These animals are being bred and used in a working capacity, and there’s no oversight or regulation.”
She also told the newspaper that these dogs that end up at the shelter often have torn-up faces, ear and skin infections, scarring and long toenails.
“I’m not anti-hunting by any stretch of the imagination,” she told the newspaper. “I’m not anti-working dog breeds, but there does need to be a call for humane treatment of these animals, and when you do have a working animal, you need to make sure that they’re getting the utmost care.”
We agree, and even though there’s an exception in the new federal anti-cruelty law for such working dogs, that doesn’t excuse abusive behavior toward these animals.
If you’re among those who enjoy keeping dogs for hunting — or for any other working activities — please make sure these animals are properly housed out of the harsh elements, that they are fed properly and that they’re given the medical care they need.
It’s the humane thing to do.