Utah Senate bill aims to make aggravated cruelty to animals a domestic violence offense

Stock image, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — The Utah Senate Health and Human Services Committee approved a bill Tuesday that would add aggravated cruelty to an animal to the list of domestic violence offenses.

The Domestic Violence Revisions bill, SB 45, sponsored by Sen. Allen Christensen, R-Ogden, defines aggravated cruelty as torturing, poisoning or killing an animal without having legal privileges to do so.

Having privileges to kill an animal includes being authorized by state law, following Division of Wildlife Resources rules and not violating local ordinance, according to the bill.

The issue was brought to Christensen’s attention by the Ogden Police Department, who described incidents where someone would kill an animal belonging to a cohabitant, a spouse, family member or someone living with them, only to be charged with a misdemeanor for harming the animal and not with a domestic violence offense.

We simply want to take the existing animal code, animal torture, and move it into domestic violence also so you can call it domestic violence,” Christensen told St. George News.

This is an important distinction, Christensen said, because the charge can help victims down the road if they need to request a protective order from that person.

Christensen attempted to pass a similar bill last year which would have made animal cruelty as a whole subject to becoming a domestic violence charge. The bill passed the Senate, but failed to get the House vote.

Opponents of SB 45 argue that animal cruelty can already be considered a domestic violence offense since animals are considered to be “tangible property” and current law already lists property destruction as cohabitant abuse, according to a Libertas Institute article.

They suggest that the law is too broadly written, which opens it up to abuse in application, but Christensen argues that isn’t the case because it only includes aggravated cruelty to animals, which is more extreme than the broader cruelty to animals.

“They can be charged under the cruelty to animals statute at any time. And this new one is only aggravated, that is torture. You can’t kill an animal, you can’t torture an animal without specific privilege to do so,” Christensen said.

Read more: See all St. George News reports and opinions on Utah Legislature 2019 issues


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