BURRILLVILLE – An effort to increase the fines for extreme cases of animal neglect and cruelty moved forward last week with members of the Town Council scheduling a public hearing on proposed changes to town law.

The proposed changes devised by the town’s Ordinance Subcommittee would strengthen the role of the police department in handling cases of animal abuse. Fines for cruelty to animals would be increased significantly for those found guilty – from $20 for the first offense and $30 for the second, to a minimum of $100 for the first, $200 for the second and $500 for the third.

The charge of cruelty would be viewed separately from general penalties involving animals, which would remain the same for the first and second offenses.

“I’m pleased to see the little old lady with one two many cats still has a $20 fine,” Councilor Dennis Anderson said of the proposal.

The effort to update the town’s process and fee schedule was prompted by an incident in January, which led to the euthanasia of a 13-year-old cocker spaniel.

Solicitor William Dimitri brought the issue to the Town Council in July after witnessing the case.

“Based on some of the cases I’ve seen I felt that the fines were too low,” said Dimitri, noting that fines and penalties are steeper in Rhode Island General Law.

Any person cited with animal cruelty would have to appear before the court.

“It would give the municipal court judge some leeway,” said Dimitri, noting that for a first offense the fine could go as high as $500 if deemed appropriate.

The new law would also give more authority to the police department to impound animals in danger of being abused or neglected. Currently, only the Animal Control Officer has such authority.

“I think the important part of this is that it puts the situation in control of the judge. The judges had no power to change behavior with a $20 fine,” said Councilor Raymond Trinque. “It also makes a commitment to animals in the community.”

Councilor Donald Fox agreed adding, “We’re a rural community. A lot of us have pets. I think it creates the right message for a community that certainly loves its animals.”

The council voted unanimously to set a public hearing on the matter, scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 11 at 7 p.m. Full text of the ordinance can be found here.

“I’m sad it took us that long to get to that point,” said Council President John Pacheco of the issue. “None of us saw it. The solicitor saw it.”

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