Debbie Darino - Animal Cruelty Law Advocate
Updated: Apr 21
Debbie Darino is a dedicated animal advocate and the driving force of Ponce’s Law also known as SB–1576. The law was signed by Governor Scott on March 23, 2018.
Debbie is now asking for language from the Misdemeanor section of this statute be moved to the Felony section thus increasing the penalties for acts of animal cruelty. The proposed changes are as follows in this draft. This is not the final proposal.
828.12 Cruelty to animals
(1) A person who unnecessarily overloads, overdrives, torments, or unnecessarily kills any animal, or causes the same to be done, or carries in or upon any vehicle, or otherwise, any animal in a cruel or inhumane manner, commits animal cruelty, a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or by a fine of not more than $5,000, or both.
(2) A person who unnecessarily and intentionally commits an act to any animal, or a person who owns or has the custody or control of any animal and fails to act, which results in the death, mutilation, torture, or excessive or repeated infliction of unnecessary pain or suffering, or causes the same to be done, commits aggravated animal cruelty, a felony of the third degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or by a fine of not more than $10,000, or both.
These changes will increase the penalties for the acts of animal cruelty that are currently considered a Misdemeanor and elevate the acts to be a Felony with stiffer punishments. These changes will help prosecutors determine if a person commits a misdemeanor or felony so that a person is not improperly charged under the wrong section of the statute.
Excerpts from a recent conversation with Debbie:
Debbie- I want to make it clear that people who intentionally kill an animal are charged with a felony, but people who kill an animal due to an accident such as unintentionally hitting a dog or cat with their vehicle, would not be charged with a felony which is F.S. 828.12.
HHS- What is the definition part of “shelter” in the proposed update?
Debbie- There is no definition of what adequate shelter is for an animal in the current law which is F.S. 828.13. I want to define shelter more accurately. Here is the draft of the definition of adequate shelter.
828.13 Confinement of animals without sufficient food, water, or exercise, and adequate shelter; abandonment of animals. —
(1) As used in this section:
(a) “Abandon” means to forsake an animal entirely or to neglect or refuse to provide or perform the legal obligations for care and support of an animal by its owner.
(b) “Owner” includes any owner, custodian, or other person in charge of an animal.
ADDà ( c )"Adequate shelter" means provision of and access to a secure weather resistant shelter that is suitable for the species, age, condition, height, size, breed and type of each animal; provides adequate air ventilation, adequate space for each animal to stand up and turn around; is safe and protects each animal from injury, rain, hail, direct sunlight, the adverse effects of heat or cold, physical suffering, and impairment of health; is properly lighted; is properly cleaned; enables each animal to be clean and dry, except when detrimental to the species; during hot weather, is properly shaded with a covering and does not readily conduct heat; during cold weather, has a windbreak at its entrance and provides a quantity of bedding material consisting of straw, cedar shavings, or the equivalent that is sufficient to protect the animal from cold and promote the retention of body heat; and, for dogs and cats, provides a solid surface, resting platform, pad, floormat, or similar device that is large enough for the animal to lie on in a normal manner and can be maintained in a sanitary manner. Under this chapter, shelters whose wire, grid, or slat floors: (i) permit the animals' feet to pass through the openings; (ii) sag under the animals' weight; or (iii) otherwise do not protect the animals' feet or toes from injury are not adequate shelter.”
(a) Impounds or confines any animal in any place and fails to supply the animal during such confinement with a sufficient quantity of good and wholesome food and water,
(b) Keeps any animals in any enclosure without wholesome exercise and change of air, or
(c) Abandons to die any animal that is maimed, sick, infirm, or diseased,
ADD à(d) Provides sufficient and adequate shelter
is guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or by a fine of not more than $5,000, or by both imprisonment and a fine.
(3) Any person who is the owner or possessor, or has charge or custody, of any animal who abandons such animal to suffer injury or malnutrition or abandons any animal in a street, road, or public place without providing for the care, sustenance, protection, and shelter of such animal is guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or by a fine of not more than $5,000, or by both imprisonment and a fine.
HHS- Are there any specific instances of animal cruelty that you feel should have been charged at the felony level?
Debbie- There was a case in Columbia County on a dog named Zena. She was a smaller, 1-year old dog that would chase the neighbors’ chickens. To my knowledge, Zena never caught or hurt a chicken. One day, Zena was chasing the chickens and then returned home. Neither property was fenced. The neighbor with the chickens went into his home, got his gun and proceeded into Zena’s yard. He shot Zena in the butt as she was crawling under her house. He then shot her again in the head killing her. I argued with the prosecutor that he should be charged with the felony since he demonstrated intent to kill or harm once he went and retrieved his gun. He also trespassed into Zena’s yard and chased after the dog until he could corner her and kill her. His intent was to kill, not to scare off. The prosecutor disagreed and charged the man with a misdemeanor and his punishment was 50 hours of community service.
HHS- Do these types of cases happen often?
Debbie- Unfortunately, yes, they do. I get involved in quite a few of these cases but I can’t cover the entire state alone, so I’m sure there are many more that I never hear about.
The amendment will be submitted to the state by September and Halifax Humane Society supports Debbie’s efforts and will continue to be an advocate for her mission to deter and eliminate animal cruelty.