Animal advocates praise new law which stiffens penalties for malicious animal abuse

YORK COUNTY, Pa. -- President Donald Trump signed a bill that makes animal cruelty a federal felony on Monday, saying the measure would help us be "more responsible and humane stewards of our planet."

"I feel great about it. It's wonderful. I mean, it helps support us and the work that we do, gives us a firmer leg to stand on," said Steven Martinez, Executive Director of the York County SPCA.

Last year, Martinez says the York County SPCA investigated 900 animal cruelty cases. Of those cases, 156 animals were pulled out of homes and brought to the York County SPCA.

"I hate that those cruelty situations exist, but I am proud of the fact we can offer services to do something about it," added Martinez.

The PACT Act -- which stands for Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture -- was signed by the President at the White House, where he said he was "pleased" to approve the legislation. The bipartisan act, which passed the Senate earlier this month, expands a previous law passed in 2010. That's the Animal Crush Law, which was enacted in 2010. It banned the creation, sale, and distribution of obscene videos showing heinous torture of animals.

Trump said he had the same reaction to the bill as he did to the Women's Suffrage Centennial Commemorative Coin Act he had signed a few minutes earlier, saying, "Why hasn't this happened a long time ago?"

"It is important that we combat these heinous and sadistic acts of cruelty," he said.

The PACT Act isn't as simple as some people think so we called Kristen Tullo, Pennsylvania State Director of the Humane Society of the United States, to help FOX43 break it down for everyone.

Tullo says the PACT Act strengthens the federal animal crush video law. Federal law had previously only prohibited animal fighting and only criminalized animal cruelty if the wrongdoers create and sell videos depicting the act. Under the PACT Act, a person can be prosecuted for crushing, burning, drowning, suffocating or impaling animals or sexually exploiting them with or without video of the act. Those convicted would face federal felony charges, fines and up to seven years in prison.

"This is serious," said Tullo. "Now, it's a federal crime. This is another preventative measure as well because we do know there is a high correlation between animal abuse and human violence."

With Trump's approval, federal authorities can go after the wrongdoers because they will have federal jurisdiction and will not be bound by state laws. Now, they can also prosecute criminals if the cruelty occurs on federal property, like a military base or a national park, and when cases cross state lines, like a multi-state dog fighting ring or animal abuse videos shared online. Before, advocates say those law enforcement had their hands tied.

Right now, all 50 states have laws on their books against animal cruelty at the state level.

The legislation, which contains exceptions for hunting, is supported by the Humane Society Legislative Fund, the National Sheriffs' Association, and the Fraternal Order of Police.

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