This past weekend, my daughter Grace and I visited the dog rescue where we got our pet, Boomer. Boomer needed a good home, and we needed help mending our broken hearts after our dog Casey died. It was a perfect match.

In the kennel, there are rows of dog tags attached to the chain-link fence. They represent hundreds of dogs that have been adopted, which is a triumph. But some of those tags also represent humans who viewed dogs as disposable. You know the type, people who buy a cute puppy for Christmas or someone's birthday without thinking through the decision. Six months later, after the puppy has chewed up mom's handbag or soiled the carpet because no one was home to allow him to relieve himself outside, the puppy isn't so cute any more.

I can't help but think of those dogs as the Utah Legislature debates the issue of animal cruelty. Knowingly torturing or harming an animal is sick and wrong. Chasing a dog with a leaf blower. Sick. Putting the aforementioned dog (who Utahns know as "Henry") in an oven. Wrong. Slashing a neighbor dog's nose through the fence, sick and wrong.

Shooting a 2-month-old puppy? There aren't words.

But there ought to be a law. There ought to be a tough law the first time someone offends like this. They should do some serious time.

If it's not politically palatable to give animals the same degree of protection as humans — such as rendering animal torture a third-degree felony on the first offense — why can't lawmakers entertain the notion of a sentence enhancement?

In general, the law considers animals as property. On a ranch or farm, that makes sense to me. Raising livestock is basically about adding value to a food product for its eventual sale. These are not animals to whom ranchers or farmers become attached in the same way most city dwellers are connected to their companion animals.

Should ranchers torture their animals? Absolutely not. But the further we city dwellers move from our rural roots, the more we lose our sense of what is involved in raising livestock. To the untrained eye, many ranch activities such as branding, docking or castration might appear barbaric. There are some ranchers who fear that things they do in the normal course of business could render them criminal in the eyes of the law.

I'd like to think cooler heads can prevail on this issue. It is possible to craft a law that makes people who indiscriminately kill puppies pay a high price for doing so, yet exempts customary practices on ranches and farms. This doesn't mean ranchers and farmers should have a free pass to do what they will, but it should offer them some level of protection from frivolous prosecutions, which a few years ago I would have thought unnecessary. But as we learn more about university researchers who have been harassed at their homes by animal rights activists, it is understandable that farmers and ranchers fear the same, or worse, will happen to them.

So why not a meeting of the minds between the approach advocated by Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake, with SB102, known as Henry's Law, which would make animal cruelty a felony offense, and that of Ogden Republican Sen. Allen Christensen, sponsor of SB117, which makes animal cruelty a felony on the second offense and only if it occurred within five years of the first crime?

Many animal advocates say SB117 is a step backward, rendering animals more prone to abuse.

There's a lot of middle ground between the two proposals, the latter of which was approved by the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee last week. Meanwhile, Davis' proposal, scheduled to be heard by the same committee last week but wasn't, appears to be in legislative limbo.

Henry's Law may go too far for some people's sensibilities. But SB117 seems to leave the door open to a lot of bad behavior. It seems to send the message, "OK, we're not going to get serious about this until we see other evidence that you're a serial animal torturer." What's the sense of that? Henry's abuser would have to put another dog in the oven before he'd do significant hard time?

Sorry, one such incident was enough to prove to me that Henry's abuser was a sick puppy who needed to face tough consequences as well as an intervention before he turned his considerable wrath to humans.


Marjorie Cortez, who wishes one of the first animal advocates, St. Francis of Assisi, could testify before Utah lawmakers on this issue, is a Deseret Morning News editorial writer. E-mail her at [email protected]