The Humane Society of Utah wants tougher laws against animal cruelty, and Rep. Frank Pignanelli, D-Salt Lake, has agreed to introduce legislation to that effect in the upcoming session of the Legislature.

"The primary change that we want to focus on involves the issue of criminal negligence," said Pignanelli. "If a person, for example, keeps a short-haired dog like a Doberman pinscher outside all the time with nothing but a wooden box for shelter and the dog freezes to death, there's currently no way to prosecute for cruelty."The owner can say he just didn't know that kind of treatment would kill the dog," Pignanelli said. "We want a law that will take a more common-sense approach to what constitutes responsible care of animals."

The society also will seek reintroduction of legislation that would require owners to secure domestic animals riding in the open beds of pickup trucks. Similar legislation failed to win approval last year at the state level although Ogden and Sandy have adopted city ordinances to that effect.

"Each year, more than 100,000 animals are killed on the nation's highways when they jump or are thrown from moving vehicles," Pignanelli said. "Utah should follow the lead of other states like California and Washington that make these laws applicable through the entire state."

John Paul Fox, the society's chief cruelty investigator, said the proposed amendments will not affect pet owners who take proper care of the animals in their charge.

"We're concerned with those situations in which a reasonable person would believe that a particular action or failure to act would cause a problem," said Fox. "And right now, problems are all too prevalent, and there's no legal recourse for the animal victims."

The society planned to launch the effort with a Thursday afternoon press conference at the Capitol.