Cruelty to pets is a felony in 45 states, but willful neglect of an animal short of causing its death remains a misdemeanor in Ohio.
That could change if House Bill 724 -- nicknamed Dick Goddard's Law -- is enacted by Ohio legislators. We hope that's the case, but given the fate of previous animal cruelty initiatives at the Statehouse, realize that could be an uphill battle.
The bipartisan measure co-sponsored by Rep. Bill Patmon, a Cleveland Democrat, and Rep. Barbara Sears, a Republican from Sylvania, makes it a fifth-degree felony for anyone convicted of "knowingly" injuring or killing a companion animal or depriving it of food, water or shelter. First-time offenses would be punishable by six months to a year in jail. Fines by offenders could be used for training humane officers.
Companion animals are dependent on humans for food, shelter and basic care -- and that includes compassion and common sense during extreme temperatures, when animals ought to be brought in from the elements. Sadly, many dogs and cats are neglected during periods of subzero cold or, at the opposite end of the thermometer, when temperatures soar and they are left without water and adequate shelter.
Under the current law, animals can be kept outdoors regardless of temperatures as long as they have shelter and access to food and water. There is no provision for arrest for those who persist in keeping pets outside in extreme weather. Passage of House Bill 724 would change that.
The animal cruelty measure could face a struggle at the Statehouse because of resistance from agricultural interests, who have helped to kill seven previous bills. House Bill 724 specifically excludes livestock, which is a sensible exception. Livestock aren't pets, and those who own farm animals have an economic interest in seeing to it that they are cared for adequately.
House Bill 724 has become known as Dick Goddard's Law in honor of the Cleveland TV weather forecaster who has been an advocate for pets during his five decades on the air. Its passage would be a fitting tribute to the octogenarian meteorologist who has become a Northeastern Ohio institution, but more importantly it would provide protection for dogs, cats and other animals who rely on humans to be more than fair weather friends.