Megan Tomasiewicz

I must admit, I’ve always judged a person by the way they treat animals. People who don’t like animals are a bit suspicious to me, and people who purposefully mistreat and abuse them are terrible human beings.

That’s why I was thrilled to learn that Virginia lawmakers are planning to make animal abuse a felony in their state. Currently, the charge is only a felony if the animal dies from the abuse. If the animal survives, it is a misdemeanor. In Nebraska, the laws are much the same.

We have seen several cases of animal hoarding and abuse happen on Burt County farms in recent years. Perhaps changes to these lax laws would prevent these crimes. Most people, even if the animal dies from their mistreatment, get nothing more than a slap on the wrist. And then they are often free to go out and get another dog, cat, horse or whatever animal they choose.

I do not blame law enforcement or our court system for this problem. They are simply following the laws on the books, which obviously need to be stronger. I think any case of animal abuse, proven beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law, should be an automatic felony. The guilty should never be allowed to own or work with animals again.

There are circumstances where someone who loves animals deeply gets in over their head with taking in rescues or strays and loses sight of the animals’ welfare. But if the animals are not receiving adequate nutrition and medical care, it ends up being abuse.

Animals do not have a voice. They cannot verbally tell us when they are sick or hurt, hungry or thirsty. They cannot say they are being mistreated or abused, or tell anyone what happened to them. Caring for an animal is a great responsibility and privilege, an exercise in human empathy.