Aug. 9 -- 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.