Case shows inadequacies of animal cruelty law

Allegations that a Whidbey Island man killed a dog with a pickaxe in a fit of rage was appalling and chilling. It’s bound to cause an uproar in a community that cares about animals.

Pets are seen as completely innocent creatures that are dependent on the goodwill of people.

You can tell a lot about a person by how they treat animals. Cruelty to animals is seen as a bellwether of cruelty to people, particularly children.

The case against suspect Jonathan Rasmussen highlights the inadequacies of the laws that deal with animal cruelty, though he is also facing additional charges.

Animal cruelty in the first degree covers a wide range of bad behavior, but is essentially about the infliction of suffering. It is an unranked class C felony, which means the sentencing range is up to 365 days in jail.

The good thing about the law is that it allows a judge to impose other conditions. A person guilty of the crime can be ordered not to own animals — which is vital — get counseling and reimburse an animal shelter for costs associated with the case.

Animal cruelty in the second degree is a gross misdemeanor.

The law-and-justice community in Island County has a history of taking animal cruelty cases seriously.

Last year a couple of teenagers were charged with animal cruelty after they threw a live chicken into a fire. This year a Clinton man was charged after he killed a fawn with his bare hands.

It’s easy to rail against animal cruelty or to press for harsher punishment of animal abusers. But the truth is that judges should be able to hand out longer sentences in the truly egregious, the truly appalling cases.