On Monday, Gov. Pawlenty signed a bill that increases the criminal penalties imposed against people who attack service animals that provide assistance to people with disabilities. The legislation was sponsored by Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, and Representative Mindy Greiling, DFL-Roseville.
The current law prohibits intentionally causing bodily harm to a service animal when it is in the custody of the person it serves. The new legislation expands the prohibition to include harming animals in a way that renders them unable to perform their duties, and makes it a gross misdemeanor to do so. Under the new law, courts also are authorized to order mandatory restitution for the costs and expenses resulting from the harm caused to service animals.
The inspiration for the legislation was an incident last fall where a woman’s seeing-eye-dog was attacked downtown Minneapolis. At the time, police were able to cite the attacker with animal cruelty, but were unable to cite a violation that reflected the true impact of the offense.
Personally, I’d like to see an even stronger charge than a gross misdemeanor for an act so cruel and pointless, but this is a good start anyway.
I am also pleased that despite the rancor over how to deal with the massive budget shortfall, the Legislature and the governor were able to agree on at least one thing — the importance of service animals to their disabled owners and the need to deter people from harming them.