WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Monday, Nov. 25, signed into law a new federal ban on animal cruelty, called the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act.
The bipartisan bill, which passed the House and Senate this year, will outlaw purposeful crushing, burning, drowning, suffocation, impalement or other violence causing "serious bodily injury" to animals. Violations could result in a fine and up to seven years' imprisonment.
Advocates say the PACT Act, which was pushed through the Senate by lead sponsors Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., will fill crucial gaps in national law, which bans animal fighting as well as the making and sharing of videos that show the kind of abuse the PACT Act would criminalize. All states have provisions against animal cruelty, said Kitty Block, president of the Humane Society of the United States, but without a federal ban, it's hard to prosecute cases that span different jurisdictions or that occur in airports, military bases and other places under federal purview.
The bipartisan act, introduced by Reps. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., and Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., builds on a 2010 law that targets videos depicting animal cruelty, spurred by disgust over a gruesome genre of "crush" videos often showing small creatures being stomped under a woman's shoe.
Block says videos capturing such torture needed to be addressed at the federal level because content shared online transcends state boundaries. But no national law targets the acts behind the recordings - despite previous congressional efforts with widespread support.
"The torture of innocent animals is abhorrent and should be punished to the fullest extent of the law," Buchanan said in a statement before the signing ceremony. "Signing this bill into law is a significant milestone for pet owners and animal lovers across the country."
Chris Schindler, who investigates animal abuse in Washington, said the law will be especially important for the Humane Rescue Alliance, where he is vice president of field services. The group handles many cases that span state lines or occur on federal property.
"Our officers investigate thousands of animal cruelty cases each year, but have been unable to truly bring justice for the animals in instances when the cruelty occurs across multiple jurisdictions," Schindler said.
The PACT Act has been cheered not only by animal welfare groups but also by many members of law enforcement who want federal tools to - in Deutch's words - "stop animal abusers who are likely to commit acts of violence against people." Leaders of groups such as the Fraternal Order of Police and the Major County Sheriffs of America have expressed support for the law.
"And animal lovers everywhere know this is simply the right thing to do," Deutch said in a statement.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund called the PACT Act a good step, but it noted that there could be loopholes.
For example, the PACT Act does not necessarily cover actions taken against an animal that cause less than "serious bodily harm," which could mean that hitting or punching an animal might not meet the law's definition of cruelty, according to the ALDF.
The legislation outlines 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."
This article was written by Hannah Knowles and Katie Mettler, reporters for The Washington Post.