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Cat glued to road puts focus on animal cruelty laws

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GRAND FORKS -- A cat named Timothy has died, and people across the country are raging.

The 7-month-old orange tabby was spotted on a southern Minnesota highway Dec. 18 by a motorist headed west to Sioux Falls, S.D.

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The cat's paws and nose had been glued to the pavement near the highway's edge, according to news reports, and the animal lost some paw pads, claws and skin when it was freed.

"It's incomprehensible to me that a person could do that to another creature," said Arlette Moen, executive director of Circle of Friends Humane Society in Grand Forks, when she was told of the incident Monday. "It's absolutely unacceptable."

The person who rescued the cat was returning home to Sioux Falls after visiting relatives in Minnesota, and she took it to Second Chance Rescue Center in Sioux Falls. Staffers there cared for it and named it Timothy -- it had no tags or other identification -- and arranged for further care by a veterinarian.

Timothy survived about a week but died around Christmas.

Now an anonymous man in Yankton, S.D., has offered a $1,000 reward for information leading to the person or people who glued the cat to the road and left it to die, and animal advocates are reviewing criminal statutes. Outraged Internet bloggers are suggesting special punishments, mostly involving glue and a wintry highway.

N.D. near bottom in abuse penalties

Just two days before Timothy was pulled from the roadway west of Mankato, Minn., the national Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) released a report ranking the states on their laws concerning animal abuse.

Minnesota ranked 15th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, and someone arrested in connection with the Dec. 18 incident could face a felony charge because it involved intentional cruelty and resulted in the animal's death, according to Stephan Otto, an attorney and legislative director with the California-based ALDF.

"They would be facing penalties of up to two years in prison and a $5,000 fine," Otto said Monday.

Minnesota has a more severe felony animal abuse charge available for cases where the animal torture is done to terrorize another person. That carries a maximum penalty of four years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Conviction on a misdemeanor animal abuse charge in Minnesota carries a maximum sentence of a year in jail and a fine of $3,000, Otto said.

But North Dakota was ranked 50th, ahead of only Kentucky, and earned placement on ALDF's "best states to be an animal abuser" list because of its "weak" animal protection laws. South Dakota was 45th.

The rankings were based on how the states did in 14 categories, including whether they had adopted felony animal abuse statutes. North Dakota is one of just four states that haven't made the most serious cases of abuse subject to felony penalties, Otto said.

The state also trails because it lacks increased penalties for repeat offenders, doesn't require mental health counseling for offenders and doesn't restrict offenders' future ownership of animals.

"We know there's a high recidivism rate for animal hoarders, for example," Otto said. "We need to be able to say, 'You have demonstrated (by a criminal conviction) that you are irresponsible with animals.' "

North Dakota also falls short, he said, by not providing for forfeiture of abused animals or allowing shelters that take in abused animals to recoup costs.

New effort in 2011

Moen represented Circle of Friends at the North Dakota Legislature in 2007, where she urged lawmakers to add a felony animal abuse statute to the books, but the effort failed.

"We had been compiling information for many years, and we wanted to impress upon the legislators the importance of having a felony penalty," she said. "Otherwise, an abuser knows that no matter what you do to a pet you won't be charged with anything more than a misdemeanor."

Members of a legislative committee where she testified "were concerned about how far this would be taken," Moen said. "They asked if we would arrest a 4-H member because he tied his calf up at the fair, and they asked if the law would extend to farmers and ranchers. Obviously, that's not what we're talking about."

Otto said that states with felony abuse statutes all have "strong exemptions" for accepted agricultural practices and there has been no impact on farming or ranching.

"There's no merit to that argument at all," he said.

The local Humane Society plans another push in the 2011 legislative session, Moen said, with help from the National Humane Society.

"We're going to need a concerted effort by all involved," she said. "We're talking with all animal-related groups in the state. There are a lot of misconceptions about what a law like this is supposed to do."

Collars embedded

Circle of Friends sees maybe three or four cases a year of severe animal abuse, but they tend to be strays brought in "and there's no way to track who they belonged to or what happened," she said.

"We see them with collars embedded in their necks because they've grown into them. Sometimes we see animals come in with broken legs that have healed inappropriately because the owners didn't care for them properly."

Circle of Friends has an active education program geared especially to children, Moen said, "teaching them the proper way to treat each other and animals and instill some of that sense of responsibility."

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