Gov. Linda Lingle signed a small but important legislative distinction into law on Tuesday, and at least one local veterinarian is ecstatic.
Horses are now protected under the state’s year-old animal cruelty felony law, in accordance with State Senate Bill 2895.
Dr. Becky Rhoades, executive director of the Kaua‘i Humane Society, said the addition of equines to the statute — which had previously protected only dogs, cats, domesticated rabbits, guinea pigs, domesticated pigs and caged birds — is huge.
“A relationship with a horse is very close,” she said. “They are definitely companion animals.”
Some opponents of equine inclusion wanted to consider horses “livestock” for a variety of clerical reasons, but in the end, all parties agreed that animal protection was paramount.
“Someday, all animals will be included,” Rhoades said.
The new clause came on the heels of great discussion of ethical horse treatment in light of the post-race euthanizing of Eight Belles at the Kentucky Derby on May 3, but local legislation had been in the works long before the issue’s recent publicity.
In Kaua‘i’s most recent horse cruelty case, a Hanapepe man allowed his tethered, neglected horse to choke to death in July 2007. Richard Corr pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge and was sentenced to 100 hours of community service in December.
Rhoades said that the new protection afforded to horses probably would not have impacted that case, as the felony pertains only to intentional acts of cruelty and not to “negligence and ignorance.”
Rhoades estimates that she had been pushing for felony protection of horses for about seven years, for very personal reasons.
“(The new law) is closure for the death of my horse, Mulligan,” she said. Mulligan was killed in 2001 when an O‘ahu barn burned down in an alleged arson. Nobody was arrested in connection with the incident.
According to the Humane Society of the United States, Hawai‘i became the 43rd state to make animal cruelty a felony when it passed the law in June 2007. Only Alaska, Arkansas, Idaho, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota and Utah had yet to follow suit.
On Friday, Lingle signed into law another bill that had been passed with the goal of protecting Hawai‘i’s animals.
According to the Governor’s Office, Senate Bill 3203 makes it a misdemeanor to possess more than 20 dogs and cats without adequate food or in harmful conditions.
“It’s a good thing. It gives a formal definition of a hoarder in the statute,” Rhoades said. However, there’s no change to the law’s application; probable cause — someone witnessing animal suffering or smells — is required before entering private property.
“We still have to prove a violation of the cruelty law, regardless of how many animals someone has, from one to 100,” she said.