ANNAPOLIS – Cash may not bring your beloved pet poodle back, but it may take the edge off your grief, some Maryland lawmakers say.
A bill introduced Friday by Delegate Susan McComas, R-Harford, would make it possible for pet owners to file civil suits in the death of pet dogs and cats and collect damages.
Fourteen other legislators and animal-rights organizations support the bill.
“Most people consider their pets part of the family and value them much more than the few dollars they paid for them,” said Julie Janovsky, Humane Society of the United States state legislative specialist.
In 2002, Maryland joined 36 other states by making deliberate acts of torture and mutilation of animals a felony carrying up to $5,000 in fines and a maximum jail term of three years.
Under McComas’ bill, pet owners could take their cases to civil court, where negligent offenders would be liable to pay up to $5,000 in compensatory damages. Punitive damages for harming a pet with “actual malice” are unlimited.
“This bill is important because in the eyes of the law, money equals punishment,” said Sandy Holcomb, a Harford County resident instrumental in pushing the legislation forward.
Animal cruelty snatched the state’s attention in August 2002 in the case of Eric Grossnickle, a Frederick County landlord who shotgunned a tenant’s cats to death and threw their bodies in a nearby creek after his demands to evict them were ignored.
The tenant, April Ritch, said the sight that greeted her on returning home was “horrific.”
“It is 2-and-a-half years later and I still bawl,” said Ritch. “For me it will never be over.”
Grossnickle was acquitted of the felony but found guilty of a misdemeanor: malicious destruction of property.
“He got a slap on the wrist,” said Ritch of then-Frederick County Circuit Judge Mary Ann Stepler’s decision, calling Stepler a “pathetic judge from hell.”
McComas said she is hoping that the bill would “have legs” but also said that the legislation “is going to have a rough time.”
Despite the anticipated difficulty, McComas said that the bill is an important one.
“We feel that animals are very important to people’s lives,” she said. “Criminal law does not adequately compensate for the intangible loss of a pet.”