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Concerns surfaced Wednesday during a Criminal Justice Committee public hearing for a bill named after a South Range colt that captured the nation's attention. WindChill's Law, AB 747, would raise the crime of intentional animal mistreatment to a ...

Concerns surfaced Wednesday during a Criminal Justice Committee public hearing for a bill named after a South Range colt that captured the nation's attention. WindChill's Law, AB 747, would raise the crime of intentional animal mistreatment to a felony if it is committed in the presence of a minor, if the animal suffers great bodily harm or if the animal dies.

The bill would allow a judge to include restrictions on threatening an animal owned by the other party in restraining orders and make it illegal for a person to cause a minor to mistreat an animal. It also would give courts the option during sentencing for the crime to order psychological assessment, counseling and treatment or anger management.

"We want to break the cycle of abuse," said Rep. Nick Milroy, D-Superior, who introduced the bill, named after a frozen, starved colt rescued by Kathi and Jeff Tucker in February of 2008. The tiered system, he told members of the committee, lets "the punishment fit the crime."

While the committee members appreciated the spirit behind the law, they were concerned about the wording of the bill.

"It could possibly be constitutionally challenged because of vagueness," said Rep. Frederick Kessler, D-Milwaukee, a former judge. If a law is too broad, he said, it becomes impossible to enforce.

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Rep. Ann Hraychuck, D-Balsam Lake, said the bill would run into a brick wall in trying to raise the penalty to a felony level. There would be push back from hunters who, if they have a felony conviction on their record, can not possess firearms.

"Hunting is sacred," in Northern Wisconsin, Hraychuck said.

Milroy responded that if someone is convicted of crime in such an egregious case, maybe they shouldn't have the right to hunt. Raising the possible punishment could prevent future neglect and cruelty, said Kathi Tucker of South Range, executive director of The WindChill Legacy.

"It should be a deterrent," she said. "Not a slap on the wrist."

In the WindChill case, two South Range residents were convicted of misdemeanor charges - one with failing to provide food and water to the colt, the other for failing to provide proper shelter - and both reached plea agreements. One was ordered to pay a $200 fine and agreed to allow law enforcement to inspect his property and animals for the next three years as part of a deferred judgment of conviction agreement. The other was sentenced to 45 days in jail, a $500 fine and allowing law enforcement to inspect her property and animals for the next five years.

The WindChill Legacy group researched animal cruelty statutes in all 50 states before creating a rough draft of the bill for Milroy. The bill reflected the "best of the best" from other statutes, Tucker said.

"We're not asking for groundbreaking legislation," she said, but for Wisconsin law to be brought up to the standards of most Midwest states.

Testimony was taken from people who questioned if killing a chicken for food in front of a child would land them in prison or if using electric fences or pinch collars for dogs would result in criminal penalties.

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Animal husbandry, trapping, accepted veterinary procedures and even hunting with dogs is exempt from the law, Tucker said.

A veterinarian from Rock County applauded the bill. The current law needs improvement, she said, and clear, concise descriptions with clear penalties would aid law enforcement and prosecutors in animal abuse cases.

Under the proposed bill, the definition of "cruel" would include "failing to prevent" unnecessary and excessive pain to an animal. Currently, only causing such pain is considered cruelty.

"Our society has decided animals are disposable," Tucker said.

Joy Brand of the Dog Federation of Wisconsin testified that the law could punish people who can't afford extraordinary measures for their pets, such as cancer or glaucoma treatment.

Milroy said a society is judged by how they treat those least able to defend themselves.

Tucker's husband, Jeff, told the committee that they fought to save WindChill because of the colt's willpower. WindChill didn't choose to be born or neglected, Jeff Tucker said. Those choices were made by humans. When the couple brought the colt home, they used hair dryers and blankets to warm it, then went to sleep, not sure if the animal would live or die. The next morning, WindChill looked at them with bright eyes.

"When WindChill was given a choice, he chose to live," Jeff Tucker said. But starvation had taken a toll on the 9-year-old colt's internal organs and, 20 days after the rescue, WindChill died.

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The next stop for the proposed bill will be an executive session of the Criminal Justice Committee. If the majority of committee members vote in favor of the bill during the session, Milroy said, it will move forward to the office of Majority Leader Thomas Nelson, D-Kaukauna. He would work with Milroy to garner enough support to pass the bill in a full session of the Assembly. A version of the bill would work through the Senate and, if both pass, be sent to Gov. Jim Doyle for approval.

Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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