CARSON CITY, NV - Animal torture could soon be a felony, and offenders could face prison time, if the Nevada legislature approves a new law.
Cooney was a happy and healthy dog, until her owner gutted her with a box cutter and let her die a slow death. Then, he confessed everything to the manager at the SPCA, and led Reno Police to her body.
"It didn't seem real. I was in a state of shock for quite a bit of time, and then I was completely devastated," said Holly Natwora, the manager at SPCA of Northern Nevada.
Because of the way Nevada law is written now, her owner is still out there, and is allowed to own animals. That could change if new legislation, called "Cooney's Law," or Senate Bill 223, passes. It would elevate animal torture from a misdemeanor to a felony.
"People like that need to be put away," said Senator Shirley Breeden, a Democrat representing Clark County. "It brings tears to your eyes looking at those pictures."
It was an emotional Senate Committee hearing, as people saw photos and heard stories of animals that had been abused, like one dog, tied to a stake and left to die in the desert, and a kitten buried alive in foam.
Changing the law could create logistical issues for law enforcement who would be called in to handle felony cases currently handled as misdemeanors by animal control.
"It could potentially require us to respond to many many calls that would not always rise to the level of a felony," said Tim Kuzanek with the Washoe County Sheriff's Office.
One person from the group Nevada's People for Animal Welfare (NvPAW) testified that he thinks the law is fine "as-is."
"Animals don't have the same rights as humans," said Tony Yarbrough, NvPAW.
His testimony drew criticism of many people at the hearing who want Nevada to join 41 other states in taking animal abusers off the streets.
The hearing was just a Senate committee hearing. For the law to pass, it has to go through several more steps.
No date has been set for the next Senate Committee hearing.