Animal abuse laws and hopes for change

Hope for more protection for animals

Last month, we told you three Greene County men were sentenced to one year in jail for severely abusing "Smokey" the dog, but they could get out after serving just four months.

Smokey was stabbed and beaten over the summer when he ran off from his home during a storm.

And many of you were questioning us on Facebook, suggesting the penalty was too lenient.

News 5's Jessica Griffith went digging for answers.

We talked to an assistant district attorney who tells us it all depends on the person's prior criminal history and the kind of abuse.

Still, that prosecutor says she hopes for harsher laws in Tennessee to help protect those that can't defend themselves.

Meet Lazarus.

This playful big guy had been tied up in a yard.

Senior animal control officer from Washington County, Tennessee Wayne Thomas rescued him.

"Had fleas all over him. Worm eggs, just not being properly cared for and fed," he said.

Based on the dog's living conditions, Thomas was allowed to take Lazarus.

His owner is now due in court.

But sometimes, animal control officers can't step in.

"We have to go by the law, we can't make the law up and do something. We have to go strictly by the law and that's exactly what we do," Thomas said.

So we went to Sullivan County Assistant District Attorney Julie Canter to learn more about animal abuse laws.

She tells us there are two levels of punishment in Tennessee.

A misdemeanor cruelty to animals, where you can get up to a year in jail and a fine.

Or a felony aggravated cruelty to animals, which can land you between 1 to 6 years in prison and a fine.

Canter serves as both child and animal abuse prosecutor.

"I see a lot of common links between individuals who do abuse animals and who abuse children," Canter said.

She says the laws have improved in the last few years... but there's room for more.

"The state of the law right now defines animal as property. They are not defined in the law books as living, breathing beings like children are," she said.

"You're responsible for your pet. He can't take care of himself, he depends on you. just like your kids do and that should be your child as well," Thomas said.

If you would like to see stronger animal abuse laws you can call your local lawmaker.

We've found out that the U.S. Immigration Department is on the heels of the Greene County case.

Officers have issued detainers on Francisco Flores, Hector Mendoza and Luis Mendoza with the Greene County Sheriff's office after they were arrested on animal cruelty charges.

They say this will allow them to take custody of the three once they're released.

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