Shooting of dog elicits bill to clarify cruelty law

BOISE – Someone who cruelly shoots and wounds his neighbor’s dog should be prosecuted, state lawmakers declared Monday, as they introduced legislation to make a two-word change in Idaho law.

The state already outlaws cruelty to animals, but Kootenai County Prosecutor Bill Douglas identified what he called a loophole in the law that he said prevented him from prosecuting several Kootenai County cases, including one in which a Hayden resident shot and wounded his neighbor’s golden retriever last February.

“The present law promotes chaos between neighbors and a Wild West attitude that innocent trespassing pets will be shot on sight,” Douglas wrote in a letter to lawmakers.

On Monday, the Senate Judiciary Committee agreed to introduce legislation designed to close the apparent loophole. Sen. Mike Jorgenson, R-Hayden Lake, said, “I’ve got to tell you, as a pet owner I was outraged when I heard that some cantankerous neighbor just shot a next-door neighbor’s dog. That’s terrible.”

Jorgenson is co-sponsoring the legislation with Sen. Kate Kelly, D-Boise, a lawyer. Kelly requested an Idaho attorney general’s opinion, which found that the current law does allow such prosecutions. “However, the language of the statute does create some lack of clarity, which could be remedied with minor language changes,” Deputy Attorney General Stephen Bywater wrote.

Douglas interpreted a clause in Idaho’s animal cruelty law to limit prosecution to the owner of the animal, though other prosecutors around the state hadn’t had that interpretation.

Because of the interpretation, Douglas dropped the charges against Hayden resident Leonard Hammrich, 67, who shot the golden retriever, Turbo, because he said he thought the dog might threaten his horse. A sheriff’s deputy had to shoot and kill the wounded dog because of the severity of its injuries.

The legislation changes the phrase “and whoever” to “or who,” making it clear that people who are cruel to animals are subject to prosecution, whether or not they own the animals.

The bill will be scheduled for a full hearing in the committee. It needs approval from the Senate and House and the governor’s signature to become law.


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