WASATCH FRONT NEWS: Salt Lake, Summit, Tooele, Utah, and Wasatch counties

‘Dixie’s Law’ would increase penalties for animal cruelty in Utah

Local News

Utah (ABC4) – Over the past couple weeks, Utah has seen heinous acts of animal cruelty.

In early March, a man stole a pet dog named Dixie and intentionally set the animal on fire, releasing it near I-80 in Magna. The dog had to be put down on Monday.

The man, who was arrested and charged with a felony, knew the dog’s owner and allegedly stole the dog “in retaliation for a failing relationship.”

In response to this incident, Salt Lake County Animal Services is working on an initiative called “Dixie’s Law,” which would enact harsher penalties for premeditated acts of animal cruelty in Utah.

The hope is to propose the law, which is currently still being brainstormed, in the 2022 Legislative Session, Callista Pearson, Communications Manager for Salt Lake County Animal Services, says. Pearson tells ABC4 that the particular call about Dixie was incredibly difficult for the animal control officers who responded.

“For our agency, our animal control officers, some of them have been working in this industry for nearly 30 years, and anytime they go to a call and see animal abuse, whether it’s premeditated or not, it’s very upsetting to them, but this call was absolutely devastating to them,” she says.

“To think that someone could have intentionally grabbed an animal from a home, and this animal trusted them, and take them to another location and possibly use something to light them on fire and burn them and then try to just leave them- they were just terribly appalled. It hurt this family deeply by what happened, but it also really upset our officers because it was just such a devastating call. There is no excuse for this kind of abuse.”

Warning: The photo below is graphic in nature.

According to Pearson, when people are charged with an animal-related felony, the penalty is zero to five years in jail and a maximum fee of $5,000 in Utah. However, most offenders never receive any jail time for their crimes against animals.

“… often we find that offenders who are charged with class 3 felonies will spend no jail time and have to pay a minimal fee for something as heinous as this,” she explains. “They get, if anything, a fee and a slap on the wrist, so I don’t think its enough to deter people from committing those kinds of violent acts.”

Pearson says that under Dixie’s Law, those who commit premeditated and planned crimes against animals would receive enhanced penalties.

“We would like to see people have a minimum jail time of six months for a crime like this and have to pay a fee because now often, they don’t always end up paying fees because it’s not up to us, it’s up to the judge,” she states.

Pearson says another potential provision of the law would be enhanced penalties if a crime as violent as this one is committed in front of a child, such as other states have.

“There are so many studies out there linking intentional, premeditated animal abuse like this to domestic violence.”

She says that if a violent act against an animal was done in front of a child, that’s a threat of power.

“When a child watches something like that, they would be terrified,” she says.

Salt Lake County Animal Services is planning to seek out support from municipal shelters throughout Utah to get their involvement in moving Dixie’s Law forward. They would like the law to be applicable across all municipal shelters.

Another potential feature of Dixie’s Law would be creating a database for people who are convicted of felony 3 crimes for abusing animals, Pearson says.

“This gentleman, he did it out in Tooele. Well, if he moved to Herriman, it’s possible the Herriman Animal Control would never know that he committed something like this out in Tooele unless there’s a database like this,” Pearson explains.

Additionally, Dixie’s Law would look at moving animals out of potentially dangerous homes, giving them protective status, if their owners were charged for abusing other animals. They would be moved out of the home until a judge makes a decision in regards to the owner.

Currently, animals are considered property. Pearson says Salt Lake County Animal Services would like to have a better definition of property that differentiates between living property and static property.

She uses the example that Salt Lake County Animal Services was once asked to hold a dog, that was considered property for three years. The dog spent three years in a foster home and could not be adopted out until the court case was over.

Pearson says that Utah has made huge progress in terms of protecting animals over the years, but she thinks the state can do more.

“There are other rural states with stronger penalties for crimes like this, and I think we as a state- we’re a mix of rural versus urban- but I think we can find a happy medium that better protects our pets and will give punishment to people who commit a crime of this nature,” she states.

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