Bills Toughen Law for Animal Cruelty Offenses


Senate panel hears bill that would strengthen penalties for cockfighting. / Photo by SCOT JENKINS

Cooney was a three-year old female pit bull-beagle mix. In October of 2010, her owner thought she had swallowed a mouse. To remove the mouse, the owner cut an eight inch hole into her abdomen with a box cutter—Cooney did not survive. Her owner—arms covered in bite marks—gathered her body, took her to the SPCA where he had adopted her, dropped her corpse off, and left.

Cooney’s owner, Raymond Rios was charged with a misdemeanor and spent 40 days in jail because he could not afford the $450 bail.

In June of 2011, Governor Sandoval signed Senate Bill 223, “Cooney’s Law,” which made it a felony, rather than a misdemeanor, to willfully inflict unjustifiable physical pain, suffering, or death on an animal.

The law was supposed to encourage people to speak up about animal cruelty by allowing them to report suspicious activity anonymously. Anyone who knows or has reasonable cause to believe that an animal has been subjected to an act of cruelty may report the act to any peace officer, animal control officer, or an officer of any society for the prevention of cruelty to animals who is authorized to make arrests.

However, terminology in the bill was not clear enough. According to Senator Mark Manendo, D-Las Vegas, “Washoe County didn’t see the writing the way it was intended.”

Senator Aaron Ford, D-Clark agreed, “I can see how it has been misinterpreted”.

The bill states in Section 1. (2): “any report made is confidential.”

Furthermore, any law enforcement agency, animal control agency, or society for the prevention of cruelty to animals, who willfully released “data or information concerning the report “was guilty of a misdemeanor unless the information was used for the purpose of a criminal investigation or prosecution.

Basically, it prohibited law enforcement and prosecutors from releasing information that a report of animal abuse existed.

Diane Blankenburg of the Nevada Humane Society said the law’s misinterpretation has led to weak enforcement and has hindered organizations from getting funding. According to Blankenburg, the intent of the law was, “not to hide the information from those that can help, but rather to protect people that come forward.”

A story the Reno Gazette-Journal ran in Dec. 2011 exposed the reality of the situation.

The RGJ reported that in November of 2011, a baggage handler at Reno-Tahoe International Airport lost her job after reporting animal abuse. At the time, under Cooney’s Law, officials said they couldn’t release the incident report or photos of the animal nor could she share photos or the report with the public.

Today, Senator Manendo aimed to fix the unintended consequences of Senate Bill 223 with a revision, Senate Bill 73.

The revision eliminates the clause that makes a report confidential. It also clarifies that “releasing information regarding the identity of a person who made the report is a misdemeanor”, instead of “releasing information regarding the report constitutes a misdemeanor”

The legislative process can be fast, as we saw last week with Senate Bill 114, the online gambling bill. It can also be slow. However, because there is no opposition or even neutrality, Manendo hopes that they can get the issue to committee and passed before the end of March.