OLYMPIA – Even some animal rights advocates were shocked last summer at the news that a man near Enumclaw, Wash., had died from injuries sustained while having sex with a horse.
But nearly as startling, for many, was the subsequent revelation that in Washington, bestiality is not illegal.
“I think most people think it must be,” said Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn.
It’s about to be, if she gets her way. On Thursday, Roach launched Senate Bill 6417, which bans any sexual contact with an animal. It also prohibits aiding, videotaping or observing. Violations would be a felony.
Roach, whose legislative district includes the farm where the incident occurred, said the bill was brought to her by Puget Sound animal rights proponent Susan Michaels. The bill was crafted to avoid criminalizing farm practices like artificial insemination of livestock, Roach said.
Sixteen other lawmakers have signed on as co-sponsors, including local Sens. Brad Benson, R-Spokane; Bob Morton, R-Orient; and Bob McCaslin, R-Spokane Valley.
“My question is, how could you be for (bestiality)?” said McCaslin. “… God almighty.”
Still, “some senators wouldn’t sign on because they found it repugnant,” said Michaels. “They didn’t want their name on (the bill).”
According to the California-based Animal Legal Defense Fund, seven states – including Idaho – make it a felony to sexually abuse an animal. In about two dozen others, it’s a misdemeanor. In South Dakota, violators must register as sex offenders.
It used to be illegal in Washington, too, said Stephan Otto, an Oregon-based attorney for the Defense Fund. Before 1976, Washington’s anti-sodomy laws were a catch-all statute that applied to both people and animals.
“This was not uncommon,” he said. “A lot of states had these kinds of crimes-against-nature laws on the books.”
Then court rulings overturned the sodomy laws for people. State lawmakers created new laws against sexual assault and similar crimes. But apparently they never got around to outlawing bestiality.
“The issue doesn’t come up often,” said Roach.
In the Enumclaw case, a 45-year-old man was videotaped by a friend having sex with a horse. Kenneth Pinyan, who suffered internal injuries, died later at a local hospital. Police tracked down his friend, James Michael Tait, 54, of Enumclaw.
In November, Tait pleaded guilty to entering his neighbor’s barn without the owner’s permission. He was given a one-year suspended sentence, a $300 fine, and ordered to have no contact with the neighbors. Deputies and prosecutors said that animal cruelty laws didn’t apply, since there was no evidence of injury to the horse.
And that’s why the bill is needed, animal rights groups say.
“Even if the animal isn’t beaten or shot or abused in a traditional sense, this is still taking advantage of an innocent creature,” said Mary Leake Schilder, with the Progressive Animal Welfare Society in Lynnwood, Wash. “The animal doesn’t have a choice to enter into that relationship.”
Roach said that investigators in the Enumclaw case found videotapes of similar acts on the property earlier.
“This wasn’t just a thing in passing, with some Seattle guy going out to the country,” she said.
Bestiality fans – or zoophiles, as they call themselves – have developed contacts over the Internet, coordinating animal abuse and techniques, said Martin Mersereau at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals headquarters in Norfolk, Va.
“All it takes is one nightmarish romp through the Internet. You won’t believe how prevalent it is,” he said. “You scratch a little, and you find that there’s a horrific truth.”
Animal rights proponents say that animal abusers are much more likely to subsequently assault human beings. Some animal rights groups are trying to get the federal government to track animal cruelty and bestiality cases.
“It’s important to nip this behavior in the bud,” said Mersereau.