A measure increasing penalties for animal abuse has been advanced by the Senate Economic Growth Committee.

Under "Patrick's Law," starvation of an animal or severe physical cruelty would be upgraded from a disorderly persons offense to a crime of the fourth degree. Civil penalties would be upgraded as well, from $1,000 to $3,000 for a first offense, and $3,000 to $5,000 for a second or subsequent offense.

The measure was written in response to the case of Patrick, a Newark pit bull found near-death in a plastic bag at the bottom of a garbage chute last year. The owner faces animal cruelty charges. The dog is fully recovered.

"How someone treats animals in their care is a window into his or her soul," said Senator Tom Kean, Jr. (R), a sponsor of the measure and longtime advocate for the humane treatment of animals. "These instances of abuse are never isolated instances and are indicative of a patter and violent tendencies."

Penalties would also be increased for offenses such as leaving an animal in a vehicle under inhuman conditions, or not properly protecting an animal from the weather.

Kean added, "My expectation is that this will be an absolute deterrent."

The measure received strong support from The Humane Society of the United States. Kathleen Schatzmann, HSUS New Jersey State Director, said Patrick's case was one of extreme neglect.

"Unfortunately, his is not the only case that we have in the state," Schatzmann added.

Senator Kean noted there are plenty of resources available for animal owners who wish to no longer take care of their pets, including adoption or surrendering the pet to a rescue organization.

"There is no reason that any animal should have to suffer as Patrick did," said Kean.