After recent cases of violent animal abuse in Monmouth and Ocean Counties, state Sen. Declan O'Scanlon, R-Monmouth,  is planning to introduce legislation that would increase penalties for those convicted of such crimes.

He says the goal is to take the uncertainty out of what people are charged with when they abuse animals, and communicate to anyone thinking of abusing animals that they shouldn't do it.

O'Scanlon says a person can be charged with a low-level disorderly persons offense under some conditions of animal cruelty.

But he says we need to recognize that the penalties for animal abuse are not nearly severe enough to keep people from committing these crimes. About 65 percent of animal abusers have also been arrested for battery.

"Anyone who abuses an animal should not be able to walk away with a slap on the wrist," O'Scanlon said.

O'Scanlon's legislation, which is pending introduction, would create the crime of aggravated animal abuse. This would be considered a second- or third-degree crime depending on the intent and the outcome of the abuse. Unlike disorderly persons offenses, which are often heard in Municipal Court, second- or third-degree crimes can result in jail time.

He says the one thing the legislation won't do is require mandatory minimum prison sentences.

O'Scanlon says he was appalled to read about what happened to dogs in Monmouth and Ocean counties.

In July, River, the mixed breed pit bull pup, was left in a cage to drown in Highlands Bay. In 2015, a 76-year-old Toms River man was sentenced to probation and prohibited from ever owning a pet after he killed a dog by connecting its animal carrier by a hose to his car's exhaust.

"I don't care who you are, whether you generally like animals or not, there's no question that this was rotten cruelty and that person should serve jail time. So we're going to make it clear, that going forward, anyone who commits such acts, will do so," says O'Scanlon.

A person who is convicted of aggravated animal abuse may also be required to complete mandatory mental health counseling. He says you can throw people in jail for a certain amount of time but if you don't look at the underlying mental issues, they may come out and do it again.

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