Animal rights advocates are celebrating after the White House signed a landmark piece of bipartisan legislation that, for the first time in U.S. history, will make malicious acts of animal cruelty a federal felony punishable with fines and up to seven years in prison.
On Monday, President Donald Trump signed the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act into law while saying that he is against “heinous and sadistic acts of cruelty.”
The bill had been passed unanimously last month in the House before similarly passing through the Senate earlier this month with overwhelming bipartisan support.
The PACT Act, which was introduced by Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) and Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) in January, gives federal authorities a new set of tools to hunt down suspected animal abusers who move across state lines, involve the internet in a criminal enterprise, or commit malicious acts of animal cruelty within federal jurisdiction.
The bill also expands on a prior law passed in 2010—the Animal Crush Video Prohibition Act—that outlawed the creation and distribution of videos that show animals being crushed, burned, drowned, suffocated, impaled or subjected to other forms of torture. However, the act didn’t expressly prohibit violence toward animals if a video wasn’t produced. The PACT Act is meant to close the loophole and make the acts of cruelty depicted in the videos felony crimes.
In a statement following the House passage of the bill, Deutch said:
“We’ve received support from so many Americans from across the country and across the political spectrum. Animal rights activists have stood up for living things that do not have a voice.
Law enforcement officers have sought a federal overlay to help them stop animal abusers who are likely to commit acts of violence against people.
And animal lovers everywhere know this is simply the right thing to do.”
The newly-approved H.R. 724 bill contains exceptions for routine veterinary care, hunting, trapping, fishing, and other actions considered necessary to protect one’s life or property from threats posed by animals.
Advocates have hailed the passage of the law as long overdue. Holly Gann of the Animal Wellness Foundation, who attended Monday’s signing ceremony in the Oval Office, said the law would “better protect some of the most vulnerable among us.”
Chris Schindler, vice president of field services at the Humane Rescue Alliance, said in a statement Monday that the law would be especially helpful in pursuing offenders who commit crimes in Washington, D.C., where offenses tend to occur across multiple jurisdictions and on federal property. He added:
“Our officers investigate thousands of animal cruelty cases each year, but have been unable to truly bring justice for the animals in instances when the cruelty occurs across multiple jurisdictions.
The PACT Act is a necessary tool for us to provide further protections for animals and our community, and will ensure some of the most horrific acts of animal cruelty are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
In a statement following Trump’s signing of the bill, Sara Amundson, president of the legislative fund for the Humane Society, said:
“This law will ensure that those who hurt animals shamelessly, callously, and without remorse do not go scot-free.
The passage of a national anti-cruelty law is a historic moment, and it sets the stage for continuing progress in our work to build out federal protections for all animals.”