State lawmaker Bob Lynn said he was compelled to introduce a bill outlawing sex with an animal after he read a news story last April about a 26-year-old Klawock man.
The man was spotted by a local woman coaxing a Labrador retriever, a local family's pet, into the woods near a ball field. There he allegedly tied it to a tree, taped its muzzle shut with duct tape and had sex with it, witnesses told police at the time.
It's a subject that makes many people uncomfortable and elicits a lot of nervous jokes, but for the people in this southeast Alaska community of 800 people, it was no laughing matter, said Klawock Mayor Don Marvin at a Friday hearing on the bill.
"When this incident happened, we had a community that was scared," Marvin said.
The man was a registered sex offender who had been twice convicted of raping a young boy. More recently he had served probation for assault after lunging at a child.
And while the incident with the dog was reported to the police, Marvin said nothing happened for two days while fearful parents escorted their children home from school.
The state has no law against such an attack, and Ketchikan District Attorney James Scott eventually charged the man with two counts of criminal mischief, which was later changed to a theft charge.
In requesting a $10,000 bail, Scott told the court that the state was concerned that if a small child had been available and unattended that day, "the small child would have been found taped (and) tied in the woods."
Lynn, an Anchorage Republican, wants to make Alaska the 36th state to ban bestiality by expanding the state's animal cruelty law to include sexual conduct. House Bill 6l would make the offense a class A misdemeanor that's punishable by up to a year in jail and a $10,000 fine.
The measure is backed by the Department of Corrections, the Alaska Farm Bureau, the Humane Society of the United States and the Alaska Peace Officers Association.
Rachel Dzuiba, a veterinarian at the Gastineau Humane Society in Juneau, said it would not only protect animals but also protect the public against a cycle of abuse and violence.
"The act of forcing a living creature to engage in a sexual activity without the ability of consent cannot simply be viewed as a personal choice - no more than forcing a child or an impaired adult would be," Dzuiba told the House Judiciary Committee.
The society's executive director, Chava Lee, said she has received several complaints at the Juneau animal shelter about sexual deviancy against animals.
"In each case that has come to my attention, coercion, abuse, threat of physical harm or terrorizing a human during the practice of a sexual assault on an animal was present," Lee said.
According to the national Humane Society, several studies highlight the link between the sexual assault of animals and sex crimes against humans, including:
FBI research on the backgrounds of serial sexual homicide perpetrators that uncovered high rates of sexual assault of animals,
A report in the Journal of Forensic Psychiatry that said 20 percent of children who sexually abuse other children also have histories of sexually abusing animals,
A Utah State University study showing 37 percent of sexually violent juvenile offenders have a history of animal sexual assault.
The committee also heard testimony from Klawock Chief of Police Cullen Fowler who said the dog that had been allegedly assaulted did not require veterinary care but appeared to have suffered.
Fowler said the pressure of the taped muzzle cause blood vessels to burst in its eyes and the dog was sensitive to the touch, jumpy and afraid for a long time after the incident.
Lynn's aide, Mike Sica, said the bill is modeled on a law in Washington state. Criminal classifications and punishments vary widely among the states that outlaw bestiality. In Nebraska, "indecency with an animal" is a class A misdemeanor punishable by a maximum fine of $500 and three months in jail. But Rhode Island punishes what it terms an "abominable and detestable crime against nature" with seven to 20 years in jail.
Though no one testified against the bill, several committee members had concerns. Rep. Lindsay Holmes, D-Anchorage, said she was worried that someone could be charged with encouraging the crime when they were merely joking and no one was hurt. She asked the Department of Law to study the matter.
The bill goes next to the House Finance Committee, though the Department of Law said it would not result in an additional cost to the state.