YORK COUNTY, Pa. -- The FBI is cracking down on animal abuse, and local advocates say it's paving the way for major change in Central Pennsylvania. The organization will now categorize animal cruelty cases as a felony. The cases, and those who commit animal abuse, will also be tracked, just as other serious crimes such as homicides.
The agency believes animal cruelty is an early indicator of violent crime, so starting this month it will start putting cases into its National Reporting Database. This also means harsher penalties are likely.
"it's really a big deal and it's refreshing and we're really happy about it," said York County Executive Director Melissa Smith.
While it's a big statement, there will not be any change in how animal abuse cases are prosecuted in Pennsylvania because county prosecutors do not handle federal investigations. "There would have to be action on the part of our state legislature to change the law for increased penalties, for us to have that additional firepower when people abuse animals," said York County Assistant District Attorney Dave Sunday.
Locally, cruelty to animals is usually carries a misdemeanor charge.
A recent case in York County is a good example. A horrible act of animal abuse caught on camera showed a white pit bull named Bugz being beaten by his owner. The SPCA immediately removed Bugz from the home. "Bugz was really the spokesperson for this type of behavior, because that happens behind closed doors more than anyone of us would like to think about," said Smith.
His former owner, Luis Junior Cruz-Padro, 28, of York is charged with one count of cruelty to animals. This is a misdemeanor in Pennsylvania. Padro is awaiting his next court date.
"If an animal is starved to death, that should be a felony. When an animal is maliciously beaten, that should be a felony, and that's just not where we are yet," said Smith. "We feel like sometimes it's a slap on the wrist. Above and beyond the prohibition of ownership, which is a very short period of time, these people can go right out again and get another animal."
FOX43 found there is not any current legislation pending regarding this issue.
Smith says a local family is in the process of trying to adopt Bugz.