© 2023 WFSU Public Media
WFSU News · Tallahassee · Panama City · Thomasville
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

New Law Seeks To Reunite Lost Pets With Owners, Crack Down On Animal Abusers

a white and black dog inside cage
Fredrik Öhlander

A new law will take effect Monday, seeking to make sure Florida animal shelters return pets to their owners following a storm. It also seeks to crack down on animal abusers.

The new law is called “Ponce’s Law.” For Ponce Inlet Police Chief Frank Fabrizio, this is near and dear to his heart.

“It was crafted after a dog named Ponce, who was brutally beaten to death in Ponce Inlet—the jurisdiction I worked in April 2017,” he said, during the 2018 legislative session. “I responded, and my agency worked that case…an eight-month-old black Lab’s lifeless body…that’s what drives us to pass this legislation…basically a 20-minute beating to death.”

Ponce’s law seeks to stop someone convicted of animal cruelty from owning or having any kind of contact with any animal. Fabrizio says that decision will lie with a judge.

“Sadly, the way the law is now, criminals who commit these violent crimes against animals often get off with minimal penalties and fail to pay their debt to society,” he added, at the time. “This legislation, I think it’s important to note, while keeping aggravated animal abuse a third degree felony increases the grading of the animal cruelty in the criminal punishment code from a Level 3 to a Level 5, and increasing this to a Leven 5 gives judges leverage to sentence convicted criminals of animal cruelty, where right now they have very little leverage to give them any jail time.”

“Judges do sometimes issue orders of ‘no animal contact’ as a sentencing condition,” said Jennifer Hobgood with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, or ASPCA. “However, often times, they don’t.”

Hobgood is another supporter of the new law.

“Having this language in the animal cruelty statute, 828.12, will clarify that judges can issue those,” she added. “We had a situation recently in Flagler County, where someone showed up at the shelter to do their community service at the animal shelter, and they’d been convicted for throwing a kitten out of the window of a moving vehicle. So, luckily, the shelter chose to follow up, and check this. But, this will just clarify that those sorts of things shouldn’t happen. And, so, it will protect a lot of animals from real harm, from people who have a proven record of harming animals.”

The new law also includes a provision to help lost pets get back to their proper owners, for example, in the event of a storm. Sen. Greg Steube (R-Sarasota) sponsored that effort during the 2018 legislative session.

“This became an issue after Hurricane Irma,” he stated. “There were a number of people, whose dogs or cats got loose and lost. And, some shelters—one close to my area in my neck of the woods was actually putting dogs down within a day of receiving them and they were actually owned by folks.”

So, the new law requires any humane societies, animal shelters, or animal control agencies to put some type of policy or procedure in place to check for ownership before animals are euthanized. That may include checking for a chip or putting up a public notice about the lost pet.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.