- Associated Press - Thursday, February 18, 2016

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Less than six months after a pony named Patches had to be euthanized after it was dragged behind a vehicle on a paved road for more than a mile, Idaho lawmakers are considering redefining what qualifies as the most abhorrent acts of cruelty and torture against animals.

The House Agricultural Affairs Committee introduced legislation Thursday that defines torture as acts that intentionally and maliciously cause an animal to suffer or feel prolonged pain. However, it would not apply to accidents or neglected animals.

Furthermore, animal cruelty would no longer apply to animals killed or wounded by being overworked.

“Anything that can impact agriculture becomes a big deal in Idaho,” said Jeff Rosenthal, executive director of the Idaho Humane Society. “Definitions are important because they usually have to be demonstrated in court. Does something fit a particular definition can cause quite a lot of debate.”

Rosenthal had not yet read the final version of the bill presented Thursday, but he said he had been part of the drafting process.

Rep. Ken Andrus, R-Blackfoot, the committee’s chairman, said he has attempted to bring such legislation forward for the past several years, but it faced opposition in the Senate and other industry groups. He remained hopeful this version would succeed this year because he worked not only with the agricultural industry, but also animal advocates.

The panel approved sending the bill to a full legislative hearing on Thursday, with only Republican Rep. Gayle Batt of Wilder opposed.

Idaho was criticized for years for having subpar animal cruelty laws until the Legislature made it possible to be convicted of a felony to mistreat pets and livestock back in 2012 - removing the state off a very short list of others that didn’t already impose tough penalties for animal cruelty. Yet the issue rose up again in September after police in southern Idaho reported that Patches, a Shetland pony, was taken from a yard in Rupert and dragged down a paved road. The pony was still alive when it was found, but it was so badly injured that it had to be put down.

Separately, the bill would also narrow the definition of companion animals to domesticated pets and not production animals, such as cattle, goats or guard dogs. Furthermore, it permits courts to order a physiological evaluation prior to sentencing for anyone being charged with animal cruelty or torture.

___

Reporter Kathryn Haake contributed to this report.


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