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A high-profile bestiality case and other recent instances of extreme dog abuse have prompted two bills before Alaska lawmakers to protect animals.
A dozen people testified in favor of the bills Friday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, including representatives of law enforcement and humane societies. Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, introduced a bill this year to toughen animal cruelty laws while a bill held over from last year's session by Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage, widens its definition to include bestiality.
Neither bill advanced after Friday's session, though committee Chairman Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage, indicated their discussion would continue.
The subject gained attention two years ago when a Klawock man allegedly had sex with a muzzled and bound Labrador retriever. There were no laws to charge him with bestiality so he faced only misdemeanor charges of tampering with property.
Wielechowski said his bill complements the governor's anti-domestic violence and sexual assault efforts; research shows those crimes have a high correlation with animal cruelty.
Col. Audie Holloway of the Alaska State Troopers testified that domestic assault and sexual violence offenders often use threats and violence against pets to coerce their victims.
Wielechowski's bill turns more egregious animal cruelty offenses, such as torturing animals, into low-level felonies. Only repeat animal cruelty offenders can be charged with felonies under current law.
There was one exception in Friday's testimony. On Wielechowski's bill, Annie Carpeneti of the Department of Law said her agency had no official position but historically has opposed tougher animal cruelty laws, because people should be better protected than animals under the law.
"It's an issue of parity for us," Carpeneti said.
Wielechowski countered his bill clearly does not lead to parity. A criminal act against a person would still lead to far more severe charges than the same crime against an animal under his bill.
Citing the correlation between acts of animal cruelty and domestic violence, French said he was surprised of the department's position given the governor's get-tough initiative on domestic violence offenders.