New tools for protecting pets introduced

WYOMING, Mich. (WOOD) — The year 2019 saw new laws taking effect on the state and national level, making animal cruelty a felony. 

Included are a pair of laws sponsored by Republican State Rep. Tommy Brann of Wyoming, who said an incident at his landmark grill and steakhouse on South Division Avenue stuck in his memory and led to legislative action.  

“I was with my apron on, cleaning this table when I heard two women were sitting there and they said, ‘The best way to get even with somebody is to kill their dog,’ and this was about 25 years ago, and I just couldn’t believe it and I just never forgot that,” said Brann, who spent a year and a half getting the bill to the governor’s desk.

The bill was called the Howie bill after Brann’s beloved dog who died four years ago. 

“When I get home at 2 in the morning, Beau and Millie were there to greet me and they were happy to see me and that meant a lot to me after cutting a bar customer off and getting sworn at, they were there to make my day better,” Brann said. 

The two bills, which took effect in the spring, are another step in changing the status of animals from property to valued family companions. 

“Your animal’s just like this ketchup bottle, just a piece of property. Now your animal’s your companion,” Brann said. 

Two bills introduced by Brann, House bills no. 4332 and no. 4333, increased penalties for people — specifically breeders — who inflict cruelty to multiple animals. It increased the misdemeanor penalty for abuse of one dog to a year in jail if two or three animals are abused and gives judges the ability to sentence up to 10 years in gross abuse situations. 

“This brings a lot more power to your pet,” Brann said.

The second law includes a maximum penalty of up to 10 years when harm or threat of harm is used as a tool of domestic abuse. 

“It happened in Hudsonville where a husband cut his wife’s two horses and killed the two horses and got on a tether,” said Brann, referring to a 2011 case. 

Brann says his constituents take the problem of animal abuse seriously and so should the law. 

“I just want the Kent County authorities to take it seriously, this is about the pet but it’s also about humans,” Brann said. 

Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker says he is acutely aware of how seriously people take crimes against pets. 

“We’ve gotten more calls on cases involving animal abuse than we do on child abuse cases,” Becker said. 

He said he’s happy to see the tools made available in the new laws. 

“I think we charged maybe eight of these type of cases last year, so we’ll see going forward, in terms of Rep. Brann’s law, is that going to have an impact,” Becker said. “The legislature (is) clearly trying to recognize them as more serious.” 

Becker is spearheading the Kent County Animal Cruelty Task Force.  

“We’re trying to take steps between us, the health department, we’re going to work with Grand Rapids and (the) city attorney and police as well, to try and do more of a multi-disciplinary look,” he said.

Becker added that gathering and coordinating information is a vital step. 

“We’re trying to get on board and talk amongst the animal control people who really work in this area to make sure we’re not missing things,” he said. “How can we work together and just have the communication just like we see with child abuse cases where you have the Children’s Advocacy Center?” 

Becker says the task force is already showing results. The same number of cases that occurred in three months last year occurred in just one month this year.