Deliberate cruelty to our defenseless and beautiful little cousins is surely one of the meanest and most detestable vices of which a human being can be guilty.
— William Ralph Inge, English author
Kentucky's not on the cutting edge of animal rights. A state-by-state analysis of animal-defense laws released earlier this year by the Humane Society of the United States ranked the commonwealth 45th. The Animal Legal Defense Fund awards us a dead-last 50th.
Among the shortcomings: Kentucky doesn't require counseling for animal-cruelty offenders and doesn't allow courts to include protections for pets in domestic violence orders.
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The state also doesn't require those charged with animal cruelty to post a bond to cover the costs of caring for the animals, doesn't include cruelty protections for farm animals and doesn't require cross-reporting of animal cruelty.
So, someone charged with cruelty in one jurisdiction can merely retreat to another county or state to adopt an animal.
Torturing an animal is not a first-offense felony in Kentucky. Our humane shelter law lacks an enforcement provision, and many shelters allow adoption without spaying or neutering.
Canned hunts (think Dick Cheney), where animals and birds are essentially captive sitting ducks, are not illegal, and puppy mills are woefully under-regulated. There aren't even laws against trading in cat or dog fur.
Yet in Kentucky, small-scale common-sense animal protections inch along within a furious broader cultural conflict over animal rights.
Factory farms have come under deserved scrutiny. An ever-louder chorus of voices questions some practices of the Thoroughbred racing industry, particularly regarding doping of animals. Letters to this paper in recent days have decried the circus, and bird lovers can't fathom the annual mass slaughter of the dove, the symbol of peace. (Dove season starts Sunday.)
But you don't have to be anti-racing, anti-hunting or a paint-splashing PETA activist to support stronger animal protections.
Though it's been well documented that a substantial percentage of animal abusers go on to other sadistic crimes, it shouldn't take the fear of human violence to protect Kentucky's cats, dogs, birds, horses and others.
It should just take a little tenderness of heart, which we'll look for in the next legislative session.
Because the heart beats under a covering of hair, of fur, feathers, or wings, it is, for that reason, to be of no account?
— Jean Paul Richter, German writer