CHEYENNE — Pet owners, farmers and ranchers are backing a bill designed to hike penalties for maliciously injuring or destroying someone else’s animal while the animal is on the owner’s property or where the animal is allowed to be present.
Ranchers have had livestock shot by others — sometimes solely for “entertainment” — while pet owners have also had their animals shot or injured on their own property, according to testimony in a House committee Thursday.
However, doing so has only been a misdemeanor — something Senate File 115 seeks to fix.
The bill, which unanimously passed the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday, would make maliciously injuring or destroying someone else’s animal a felony, provided that the animal is on the owner’s property or somewhere it is allowed to be, like a 4-H fair.
Violating the law could subject the criminal to up to two years in prison and/or a fine of up to $5,000.
The goal, supporters say, is to increase the severity of the crime and to fill a gap in existing law.
It’s already a felony if someone “knowingly and with intent to cause death, injury or undue suffering, cruelly beats, tortures, torments, injures or mutilates an animal resulting in the death or required euthanasia of the animal,” according to state law.
However, the gap is where an animal is shot or injured, but is not killed or requires euthanasia.
That gap has affected a number of cases around the state.
In Cheyenne, 6-year-old Ben, a black Labrador retriever owned by Janet Marschner, was shot while on his owner’s property in December.
His injuries led to Marschner having to put the dog down and led Marschner to work to try to fill the gap in the law.
The same situation has happened to livestock, said state Sen. Leland Christensen, R-Alta, the lead sponsor of the bill.
Christensen said there have been incidents in northern Wyoming of people shooting the testicles of bulls, which ultimately hurt ranchers who then aren’t able to continue to breed cattle using that bull.
He also mentioned a case in 2004 in Jackson in which a person had placed poisoned meat bait around the area, targeting dogs, and said veterinarians have told him of other cases where animals have been shot by others on the owner’s property.
“It’s fairly disheartening to find out this is not uncommon,” he said.
Each of those situations would be affected by the proposed law.
Even Sam Powell, the legislative liaison for the Wyoming Peace Officers Association, which is in favor of the bill, had witnessed a similar incident.
He said once, as a police officer, he was stopped behind a truck while waiting at a road construction site. He said he watched as a rifle emerged from the passenger window and the passenger shot three sheep near the road.
When the men were confronted, Powell said, it was clear that to them “it was just a game.”
Representatives of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association and the Wyoming Farm Bureau Association spoke in favor of the bill.
Twenty-three of Wyoming’s 30 senators and 24 of the 60 representatives have signed on to the bill.
Senate File 115 is separate from House Bill 193, a similar bill that died in the House after not being heard in the House Committee of the Whole.