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New law aimed at preventing animal cruelty draws praise from Prescott-area officials

This dog was one of 54 animals transported to the Yavapai County Humane Society for care after Animal Control Officers found them in a Cordes Lakes home. (Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office/Courtesy)

This dog was one of 54 animals transported to the Yavapai County Humane Society for care after Animal Control Officers found them in a Cordes Lakes home. (Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office/Courtesy)

The fight against animal cruelty in Arizona recently gained a more powerful weapon courtesy of state legislators.

Earlier this month, the Arizona House of Representatives passed House Bill 2671. Its objective is to strengthen the state law against those who abuse domestic animals and pets. The bill was signed into law Wednesday, May 8, by Gov. Doug Ducey.

The measure, sponsored by John Kavanagh, R, Fountain Hills, issues stronger penalties in the worst cases of abuse, especially in cases where abusers intentionally and knowingly inflict cruel mistreatment. Violators can be found guilty of a class 5 felony. A defendant in Arizona faces a presumptive term of two years and an aggravated term of two years and six months in prison.

Previously, animal abuse was considered a class 6 felony, the least serious under Arizona law. The term for a class 6 felony is one year in prison; the aggravated term is two years in prison. Under certain circumstances, a judge could designate a class 6 felony conviction as a class 1 misdemeanor conviction. Also, those convicted of a felony can be court-ordered to pay a fine of up to $150,000.

Though the bill isn’t expected to take effect until August, there were two recent examples of animal abuse cases in Yavapai County that the bill is aimed to help deter in the future.

One was the alleged abuse of more than 50 animals at a home in Cordes Lakes. The suspect, 50-year-old Stacy Hembree, had reportedly kept the animals crammed in her cluttered home without proper food, water and care, according to the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office. Many of the animals were found stuffed in small cages/kennels and forced to eat food that their feces had dropped in to. Hembree was arrested on Tuesday, May 7, and has been charged with animal cruelty and animal cruelty involving serious physical injury.

YCSO spokesman Dwight D’Evelyn said in an email on Monday: “Based on discussions following the recent animal abuse case in Cordes Lakes the Sheriff’s Office publicized, I know our animal control officers appreciate the fact the governor signed this bill to increase the penalty for cruelty to animals.

“Intentional cruelty or mistreatment of an animal is now a class 5 felony, and it sends a message that these acts will not be tolerated. We hope the increased prison time associated with such a conviction will be a deterrent.”

The other abuse case occurred in Chino Valley, in which two residents allegedly neglected two puppies.

The 6-month-old puppies were discovered living in a 4-foot-by-4-foot kennel covered in feces and surrounded by trash, according to the Chino Valley Police Department (CVPD). The puppies reportedly did not have access to water or proper shelter and their collars had embedded into their necks due to a lack of adjusting as the animals were growing, CVPD reported. Both suspects, 39-year-old Penny Graydon and 21-year-old Joel Graydon, were arrested on Monday, May 6, and are facing charges of animal neglect, animal abuse and animal mistreatment.

Lt. Randy Chapman with CPVD said the department whole-heartedly supports any legislation that might help prevent such abuse moving forward.

“We have had in the past repeat instances of people who are convicted of animal abuse or cruelty and wind up with animals again,” Chapman said. “Maybe now that there’s stiffer penalties, they’ll think twice about doing the same thing that they’ve done before.”

Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk also commended lawmakers for increasing penalties for animal cruelty.

“While, fortunately, this office does not see a large number of animal cruelty cases, it seems that the level of abuse, violence, or extended suffering is escalating,” Polk said. “I believe that household animals should be afforded greater protection under our laws and am proud that Arizona will crack down harder on those who subject their pets to cruel mistreatment.”

While he didn’t sponsor the bill, Rep. Leo Biasiucci, R-Lake Havasu City, had strong feelings about the new law as well.

“I, like many of my constituents, am a loving pet owner,” Biasiucci said. “My dog is family and I couldn’t imagine if he was ever intentionally harmed or killed. This bill will make it a class 5 felony if someone intentionally or knowingly kills or harms a domestic animal. It also means the individual convicted of the crime can’t plea the charge down to a misdemeanor. With over 7,400 cases of animal abuse occurring in Arizona in 2018, we need to make sure the punishment for these heinous acts are severe and just.”

The Daily Courier’s Max Efrein contributed to this report.

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