For those tempted to punch a horse during a demonstration or kick a narcotics dog sniffing at your bag, the U.S. government has a new message: Keep your paws off or you will go to jail.
Harming these four-legged law agents is now a federal offense.
Under the Federal Law Enforcement Animal Protection Act, which went into effect this week, anyone convicted of purposely assaulting, maiming, or killing federal law enforcement animals such as police dogs and horses could be fined at least $1,000 and spend up to 10 years in prison. Previously, the animals were covered by a variety of state, rather than federal, laws.
The United States Police Canine Association and The Humane Society believe the new law will not only provide more protection for the animals they but also deter criminals, particularly in drug stings, from targeting canines.
And, as Russell Hess, the executive director of the U.S. Police Canine Association, notes, the new law recognizes the law enforcement animals as more than just a piece of police equipment and property. The stronger punishment recognizes the animals as partners who are valued by human officers.
“If it protects the animal then that’s great. But if it doesn’t, then at least now the punishment will be more in line with the violation,” said Hess. “We’re hoping that once people hear about the new law and the punishment they will face, that they will be deterred from hurting a federal law enforcement animal. Before, the animals were classified as a piece of equipment, like a computer, or a police car.
“Well, the law recognizes that an animal is not like a computer and is a living thing that has to be taken care of. Though the animal’s not a person, the bond [with the human officer] is still there.”
A Target in Drug Busts
Before the law went into effect, Hess said, the Police Canine Association had received reports that narcotics dealers had put out bounties on narcotics dogs that had either thwarted or come dangerously close to foiling their operations on previous encounters.
The Federal Law Enforcement Animal Protection Act was introduced in 1999 by Rep. Jerry Weller, R-Ill. and was approved by the House of Representatives last October.
Though there are no national statistics on the number of animal fatalities suffered annually, the canine association says that assaults on law enforcement animals were on the rise when the bill was proposed. According to the association, eight police dogs were killed while on duty between 1998 and 1999.
Weller believes that law enforcement animals needed greater protection under federal law because of the dangerous situations they face and because the bond they share with their human colleagues.
“Police dogs’and horses’ lives are on the front line against drug runners and violent criminals every day,” Weller said in a statement. “Law enforcement officers have told me that police dogs are the first sent in to survey dangerous crime scenes involving drugs, bombs or other high risk situations.”
Ties To Human Assaults Wayne Pacelle, senior vice president for communications and government affairs at the Humane Society, says the federal law is an overdue recognition of the work of law enforcement animals and their sacrifices. Pacelle hopes that the law will not only protect canines and horses on duty but ultimately protect human beings. He believes the law recognizes a link between attacks on animals and assaults on human beings.
“Maybe that will prevent people from transferring their violent tendencies and actions on other people,” Pacelle said. “Oftentimes, studies have shown violence against animals pre-stages violence against people. It’s important that law enforcement agencies, judges, and prosecutors take these acts very seriously as an indicator of future violence.”
All animals that work for federal law enforcement agencies are protected under the Federal Law Enforcement Animal Protection Act, including those who work with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, the National Park Service and those who protect the U.S. Capitol.