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Abandoned dog case spawns scrutiny on Iowa animal abuse laws

Posted at 4:21 PM, Aug 01, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-02 07:21:00-04

A western Iowa man awaits trial after pleading not guilty on Monday to 40 counts of animal neglect. That particular case has left animal abuse laws under lots of scrutiny. The prosecuting attorney wants Iowa lawmakers to make them tougher. 

Animal rights groups say Iowa has some of the worst animal protection laws in the country, ranking 49th, according to the Animal Legal Defense fund. But after a case in rural Pottawattamie County where around 40 dogs were abandoned in kennels, some believe the state could make changes. 

When authorities arrived at the site of Young Gunz Kennel in Hancock, Iowa, they found dozens of dogs malnourished, laying in feces inside their kennels with no food and water. Investigators say four of the dogs were dead on arrival. 

"This is one of the worst cases we've dealt with," says Matt Wilber, Pottawattamie County Attorney.

The kennel owner, Dustin Young, has been charged with 40 misdemeanors in the case. Pottawattamie County Attorney Matt Wilber says he couldn't file a felony because the threshold for that charge in Iowa is too high. 

"You have to be convicted of animal torture and then commit animal torture again, that's how bad our laws are," says Wilber.

The young case prompted Wilber to meet with Iowa legislators and animal rights groups, asking for a bill that allows prosecutors to use felonies in extreme cases. 

“Lets protect cats and dogs and let's us start there. I think there is maybe some momentum to put some teeth into our laws this next session," says Wilber.
But there could be roadblocks, mainly from agricultural groups that are worried ranchers could be subject to unjust regulation.

"It is difficult sometimes to get animal cruelty bills passed in state legislatures where you have rural areas but worked hard to establish great relationships which is why the bills that we have proposed on animal cruelty have passed in the state legislature," says Mark Langan, vice-president of field operations, Nebraska Humane Society.

In Nebraska, animal abandonment resulting in illness, serious injury or death is a felony and it carries a max three year prison sentence. 

Mark Langan of the Nebraska Humane Society says it was hard work to pass that law and he's willing to help Iowa pass something similar. 

"You're only going to get those laws passed if there is a sense of trust between Humane Societies and these ag groups and we've done that in the state of Nebraska," says Langan.

The same rankings that put Iowa 49th in animal protection laws puts Nebraska in the middle of the pack, 25th in the country.