New Law Bars Animal Abusers From Owning Pets


New Law Bars Animal Abusers From Owning Pets

By Lacey Watt

INDIANAPOLIS—Eeyore was a malnourished pit bull terrier mix with a heart condition when a stranger dropped him off at IndyHumane in November 2018.

The only information IndyHumane staff had was that the scruffy, half-starved animal had been found with no collar or chip to determine where he belonged. He appeared as though he had been scavenging for food on his own for some time.


After surgery at Purdue University to fix his heart condition and regular meals to help him put on 20 pounds, Eeyore today is a playful, goofy 3-year-old.

Eeyore is the kind of animal lawmakers had in mind when they enacted legislation in the 2019 session to make sure abusers don’t get a chance to abuse again. Senate Enrolled Act 474 states that a person convicted of animal abuse may not own, harbor or train a companion animal during the probation and parole period.

“In most cases animals can’t protect themselves,” said Sen. Ron Alting, R-Lafayette, author of SEA 474. He doesn’t have a pet himself but appreciates the impact animals can have on people’s lives.

Alting wrote SEA 474 after he was approached by Tippecanoe County Prosecutor Patrick Harrington and others with concerns about the cases of animal abuse they were seeing. Harrington had prosecuted about a half dozen cases over the past three years of dogs and cats being shot, burned and mistreated in other ways.

“If you are convicted of a crime with a vehicle, what happens to your license,” Harrington said. That license is revoked, and a person convicted of mistreating an animal should lose the right to own another one, he added.

From 2014 to 2017, 45 people were convicted and sentenced for animal cruelty as a Level 6 felony. Out of the 45 convicted, 80 percent were place of probation for an average of 326 days. In the past law, there was nothing that prevented abusers from owning animals again.

Cheri Storms, executive director of Spay-Neuter Services of Indiana, agrees with the intent of the new law.

Storms, who has been working in the animal welfare field for 12 years, recalled one particularly awful case when a rescue team brought a badly burned cat to her facility. They had named the cat Phoenix and treated him for his injuries, but the animal eventually died.

Storms said that this case was beyond anything she had heard, and felt that lawmakers should hear of it, too, in order to make needed changes to the law.

“I felt sick,” Storms said of her experience describing the abuse to lawmakers during the last session. “It was nerve-wracking, but worth it.”

Storms said her hope is that with the passage of SEA 474 people will stop and think before abusing an animal. If they do, they will be punished.

“Part of our work is to make sure they have a good life,” Storms said of the animals she helps.

At IndyHumane, where Eeyore found new life, officials try to make sure prospective pet owners are properly screened before being allowed to adopt. When adopting, a person must sit down with a counselor to discuss why they want a pet.

Kirsten VantWoud, IndyHumane’s chief operating officer, explained that they hold interviews to make sure they match with pets to owners that will last a lifetime. As far as knowing if someone has a history of animal abuse, it’s harder to tell.

“We ask some leading questions. We ask about pet history, so certainly if some said they had 12 animals and they just don’t have them anymore, that would concern us,” VantWoud said.

At IndyHumane’s facility in northwest Indianapolis, cage after cage and room after room are filled with dogs and cats, some of which have been abused, waiting for someone to look in their direction and take them to a new home. IndyHumane has 235 animals currently waiting to be adopted, with 182 animals in foster homes or at two offsite adoption locations, Pet Supplies Plus in Whitestown and the Nine Lives Cat Café in Fountain Square.

Freddie, a 2-year-old cat, is one of the lucky ones. He ended up at IndyHumane when he was found with a broken jaw, but after surgery is now recovering.  Freddie, like Eeyore, has found his forever home.

Editor’s note: This is a story in an occasional series about the impact of legislation passed in the 2019 session of the Indiana General Assembly.

Lacey Watt is a reporter for, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email