Invoking the memory of a pit bull set ablaze in Baltimore, Gov. Martin O'Malley has asked the state's attorney general to review Maryland's animal cruelty laws to determine if they are sufficient to deter such "heinous" crimes.
The legal review comes as the Baltimore City Health Department is seeking help in finding whoever tortured a cat found bound with a chain and rope to a utility pole and severely burned by firecrackers on Wednesday. Animal Control officers found the dead animal in the 3700 block of Lewiston Ave. near Arlington Elementary School.
"We must communicate to our young people that cruelty to animals is not acceptable behavior," Olivia D. Farrow, interim commissioner of the Health Department, said in a statement. She asked that witnesses to any dog fighting or animal abuse call 311, the city service line.
O'Malley, a Democrat, has received hundreds of e-mails and letters from constituents concerned about dog fighting and the case of Phoenix, the pit bull who died last month.
The governor noted that his family has three dogs - a golden retriever named Lady, a cocker spaniel, Rex, and teacup poodle, Winnie, short for Winston - and two cats. He said he considers them "part of our family" and that he was "deeply disturbed and saddened" by what happened to Phoenix, the nickname caregivers gave the burned dog.
Maryland ranks 32 out of all U.S. states and territories in terms of the strength of animal protection laws, according to the Animal Legal Defense Fund. Other states' laws are considered tougher because they include provisions such as banning those convicted of animal cruelty from owning pets and issuing restraining orders to protect pets.
High-profile incidents frequently galvanize support for changing laws, said Stephan Otto of the defense fund. "Laws are catching up with how society feels about animals and their treatment," he said, adding that more than 60 percent of U.S. households include at least one pet.
Under Maryland law, aggravated cruelty to animals through torture, beatings or dogfights is considered a felony punishable by up to three years in prison and $5,000 in fines. Abuse or neglect of an animal is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days and $1,000 in fines.
Baltimore police have charged two teenagers in the pit bull case, which sparked nationwide outrage and a campaign that raised more than $26,000 in donations to find the culprits.
Anthony Guglielmi, Baltimore police spokesman, said officers continue to investigate. Police also believe Phoenix was involved in dog fighting, he said.
Debra Rahl from the Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter said she has seen a lack of enforcement of animal cruelty laws in the city and cases where culprits receive a "slap on the wrist."
"It's often looked at as just an animal," she said. "We have so many other serious crimes happening in the city and state, so this is not taken as seriously."