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Woman circulating petition to change state's cruelty law

April Boyd plays with her four month old pit bull puppy Buddy Wednesday in Mitchell. Boyd adopted Buddy after one of his previous owners cut off his ears with a pair of scissors. Rudy Garcia has been charged with misdemeanor inhumane treatment against an animal charge in connection with the July 11 incident. (Laura Wehde/Republic Photo)1 / 3
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A Mitchell woman is circulating an informal petition, calling for the state's animal cruelty law penalty to be changed from a misdemeanor to a felony.

April Boyd, office manager at local veterinarian Dr. Kevin Hubbert's office, said a recent incident -- in which a pit bull puppy allegedly had its ears cut off with scissors by its owner -- is the impetus for the petition. She is circulating the petition both in person and online.

The case was by far the worst Boyd has seen in her six years working for Hubbert. She later adopted the dog.

"It's very cruel to take a pair of

scissors and cut a dog's ears off," she said.

Rudy Garcia, 29, of Mitchell is charged with misdemeanor inhumane treatment of an animal, said Pat Smith, Davison County state's attorney. Garcia has a preliminary hearing scheduled for today. If convicted, he could face up to one year in jail and a $2,000 fine.

Only a complaint and arrest warrant were filed against Garcia. The complaint alleges he committed the act around July 11, but there are no supporting documents that provide details of the incident.

The dog, formerly owned by Garcia, had mutilated ears when it was brought in by a woman, Hubbert said. The ears were cut close to the skull.

"The dog (also) was intoxicated from being (given) alcohol and some Vicodin," he said. "I guess ... he felt sorry for what he had done to the dog or to make the dog (feel) better."

Animal cruelty has been brought to the forefront recently with last week's seizing of 172 dogs from a Hurley farm, where the owner was breeding dogs and selling them online, The Associated Press said.

The Humane Society alleged the dogs were being kept in unsanitary conditions. The investigation was prompted by a consumer who bought a sick dog.

Many dogs appeared to have skin and eye infections, untreated medical conditions and parasite infestation, the society told the AP. The dogs were moved to a temporary shelter at Turner County Fairgrounds in Parker to be treated.

South Dakota is one of four states that does not make animal abuse or cruelty a felony, joining Idaho, Mississippi and North Dakota. In the past year, Idaho and Mississippi lawmakers considered similar legislation, but it did not pass, said Dale Bartlett, spokesman for the Humane Society of United States in Norfolk, Va.

States have been passing such bills in the last 20 years because of a change in attitude toward animals and the public has become less accepting of unnecessary animal suffering, Bartlett said. Growing evidence also links animal cruelty to human violence, he said.

Bartlett cited a book published by the FBI's Behavioral Sciences Division that includes a study of serial killers in the 1970s. It found a shared trait of abusing and killing animals by serial killers when they were young, he said.

"Seventy-one percent of pet-owning women who enter a battered women's shelter report their abusive partner also targeted their pets," Bartlett said.

A state lawmaker from Sioux Falls -- Republican Rep. Joni Cutler -- introduced HB1146, which prohibited the torture of animals and called for certain penalties, in the last legislative session. The bill never advanced from the House Judiciary Committee. Cutler could not be reached for comment for this report.

State Sen. Mike Vehle, RMitchell, a Senate Judiciary Committee member, recalled the House hearing drew a lot of concern from agricultural industries because of branding.

"In no way do I condone this behavior. That's terrible," he said of the case involving the pit bull puppy. "But are we enforcing it? Is doubling the penalty going to make any difference?"

Smith said he has prosecuted few animal abuse cases in his 11 years. He recalled a puppy mill case in the early 1990s in Mitchell.

"We are a rural state with a healthy attitude about animals," Smith said.

He said if the law is changed to a felony, that would give judges the ability to sentence offenders to a prison sentence instead of jail time ordered for misdemeanors.

Mary Duvall, South Dakota Farm Bureau communications director and lobbyist, said the group opposes any legislation that could make felons out of farmers and ranchers for their livestock practices. She noted the 2009 bill was broadly written.

"They saw it, as it was written, (that) it could apply to animal husbandry practices," she said, citing branding, dehorning and castrating bull calves and emergency C-sections on cows as examples.

If a bill was written that excluded livestock practices done by ranchers and producers, Duvall said Farm Bureau officials would have to take a look at the language before passing judgment on it.

Current state law recognizes reasonable animal husbandry practices, Duvall said.

"If this is an issue that involves dogs and cats, let's make it about dogs and cats," she said.

If an animal cruelty penalty change bill is to be reintroduced, Vehle said lawmakers will need to work with agricultural entities to make sure it doesn't negatively impact how farms and ranches operate.

Boyd said she would like to gain 1,000 signatures for her petitions. So far, only she and a relative are the only South Dakotans who have signed her online petition, which had 155 people sign it as of early Wednesday evening.