PHOENIX - A task force is working on a legislative proposal to close loopholes in Arizona's animal cruelty laws that have enabled some suspects to avoid prosecution.
The 11-member task force, created this year by two Phoenix city councilors, contends that prosecutors cannot pursue some cases because of the vague language in state law that sets the standards for what constitutes animal neglect, cruelty and abandonment.
Phoenix police investigated 298 complaints of animal cruelty and abandonment last year, The Arizona Republic reported. Most of the cases involved abandoned animals, and police couldn't find the owners.
Police dismissed 37 cases after finding no crime. They arrested suspects in 38 cases, and city prosecutors took 17 of them to court.
Task force members believe some of those dismissed cases might have led to convictions if the state had clearer language in its animal cruelty laws.
Rep. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, is leading the task force's effort to clarify the laws. The group hopes to introduce legislation after the session begins again in January.
"Basically, we are combing different statutes in different states for definitions that would allow for appropriate (police and rescuer) intervention," McGee said. She said the changes should also strengthen city and county attorneys' ability to prosecute.
Specifically, the group wants to define what constitutes cruel confinement, abandonment, neglect and shelter and require handlers and owners to give their animals potable water as a standard of care.
The group also wants to include "torture" as a felony crime in the animal cruelty statute and outlaw "horse diving," which involves forcing a horse to dive into a pool from at least 40 feet above the water.
Phoenix police said they have never encountered a case of horse diving. However, horse advocates are concerned about potential incidents.
The group also plans to seek penalty enhancements or minimum sentencing requirements and fines.
Arizona's primary animal cruelty statute focuses on general acts of cruelty, neglect and abandonment. It also includes intentional acts that hurt or kill an animal.
Under part of the law, animal neglect and abandonment are misdemeanors. Convicted offenders face up to 30 days' imprisonment and $500 in fines unless the state finds aggravating circumstances -- such as repeated offenses -- that would allow for harsher sentencing. City prosecutors handle the misdemeanor cases in municipal court.
In those felony cases where cruelty or mistreatment is intentional, convicted offenders face a maximum prison sentence of two years and up to $150,000 in fines.
Deputy City Prosecutor John Tutelman said the task force has taken on a big job to improve laws to protect animals and the community.
"We're dealing with everyone from people who don't know and are ignorant ... to people who are intentionally harming animals, people who deserve to be punished for that kind of conduct," he said.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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