Las Vegas might strengthen its animal abuse laws after a series of publicized crimes against dogs in the valley spurred a councilman to seek assurance that penalties were as tough as possible.
Councilman Stavros Anthony said Wednesday he wanted the city to take a “hard look” at its animal cruelty ordinance because “the government’s hammer should come down really hard” on vicious dog abuse, adding that he would sponsor any ordinance necessary to enact the strongest, mandatory penalties.
In response, senior city officials promised to return to the council in the near future with a report including details on what resources are being allocated to abuse investigations and also how other jurisdictions handle such crimes.
“I don’t know why, but it seems like the last six months or so, I’ve been hearing more and more cases about dog abuse,” Anthony said. “Some of them are just absolutely horrendous.”
In just the last three weeks, a 29-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of beating a dog to death with a pole outside an east Las Vegas animal hospital; a 48-year-old man was charged with a felony for allegedly killing his girlfriend’s dog after losing $500 at a casino; and two women in their 20s were sentenced to probation for leaving two 8-month-old terriers to die in kennels.
In that case, the women were gone for 20 days after driving to Florida and the scene was discovered by police after neighbors reported a “foul smell” coming from a southwest valley apartment, according to authorities.
“Can you just imagine the torture those dogs went through to die?” Anthony said.
Animal cruelty is currently a misdemeanor in Las Vegas punishable by up to six months in jail, a maximum $1,000 fine, or both, according to the city’s municipal code.
Under state law, the penalties can be more harsh: It is a felony to willfully and maliciously torture or kill a pet, according to a 2019 report by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, which ranked Nevada 19th in the country for its animal protection laws. The charge is punishable by up to four years in prison and/or a $5,000 fine.
Animal cruelty, neglect and abandonment is a misdemeanor crime statewide, escalating to a felony for additional offenses within a seven-year period, according to Nevada statute.
Stacia Newman, the executive director for Nevada Political Action for Animals, said the misdemeanor crimes generally concern a “gray area,” where there is abuse but it might not be hands-on: A dog is left outside in the heat for too long, as an example.
The city’s ordinance should match the state’s, if not be stronger, to send the message that animal cruelty will not be tolerated in Nevada and to avoid cases pleading down to probation, she said, while local jurisdictions should aspire to pass universal laws.
“These are not insignificant cases and they have to have consequences,” she said.
Newman, who has been advocating for animal-friendly candidates through her political action committee for three decades, said that there is “a tremendous amount” of animal abuse in the valley but that the community has become more active in reporting cases to the authorities.
“Any kind of guidance from the community and our leaders to make people more responsible with their animals, I applaud that,” said Lori Heeren, executive director of the Nevada Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
The organization focuses on sheltering and placing abandoned pets into loving homes and roughly 75 percent of their animals are surrendered by the owner, Heeren said. While most pets they receive are given up because the owner was not educated enough to properly care for the animal, or could not afford it, Heeren said they do occasionally see severe cases they have to report to authorities.
North Las Vegas broadens ordinance
The Metropolitan Police Department has a detective who investigates animal cruelty cases and the district attorney’s office has prosecutors dedicated to such offenses. One prosecutor told the Review-Journal late last year they would like to see state lawmakers impose stricter sentences.
In December, the city of North Las Vegas broadened its animal cruelty ordinance, criminalizing the failure to provide animals with food, water and veterinary care, and also requiring animals to be given proper shelter if they are kept outdoors.
A few months prior, advocates in the city sought justice for a dog that apparently died from heat exposure while tied to a chain.
President Donald Trump signed a bipartisan bill that made animal cruelty a federal felony in 2019.