LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Gov. Mike Beebe has signed into law new animal-cruelty restrictions that make aggravated cruelty to cats, dogs and horses a felony on the first offense.
The new law, which also makes cockfighting a penalty, comes after previous attempts to stiffen animal-cruelty restrictions had faltered over arguments between animal welfare groups and hunters and farmers.
"I became convinced that a first-offense felony was appropriate for the definitions in the bill," Beebe said Wednesday at a bill-signing ceremony.
"They satisfied me that it wasn't going to be used for things that were discussed as extreme and the language was there and protected to ensure that. I don't know who could argue against it."
Arkansas becomes the 46th state to make cruelty to animals a felony, according to the Humane Society of the United States.
Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, who negotiated the compromise between the groups to support the new restrictions, said the measure shows that it's possible to protect animals without infringing on the state's hunting and farming heritage.
"It speaks to our better nature as to whether or not we're good enough or strong enough to stand up for those people and creatures who cannot stand up for themselves, and this act does that," McDaniel said. The law, he added, also "acknowledges our own heritage and culture and appreciation for our agricultural way of life."
Groups that supported the new law include the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, the Arkansas Farm Bureau, the Arkansas Poultry Federation, the Humane Society of the United States and the Arkansas Prosecuting Attorneys Association.
The law, which will take effect 90 days after the Legislature adjourns, makes aggravated animal cruelty on first offense punishable by a fine of up to $10,000 and up to six years in prison. The bill also includes a five-year sentencing enhancement for anyone convicted of torturing an animal in the presence of a child.
In exchange for the stiffer penalties, animal welfare groups made several concessions, including a change in state law so only certified law enforcement officers can arrest someone for animal cruelty.