Wednesday, May 26, 2010

N.C. House OKs 'Susie's Law'

RALEIGH — The animal cruelty law named for an abused and burned Greensboro dog passed the House 113-0 today and was sent to the Senate for approval.

Susie’s Law, inspired from outrage over a case involving a pit bull-mix puppy, would increase the penalties for abusing animals. Under the bill, judges would have discretion to give those convicted jail time in severe cases.

Lashawn Whitehead of Greensboro was convicted of beating, burning and leaving his girlfriend’s dog for dead but received only 6 to 8 months of probation — the maximum penalty allowed under current law — after pleading guilty to felony animal cruelty.

Backers of the bill told the House Judiciary III Committee on Tuesday that the judge should have been able to sentence Whitehead to jail.

News & Record

Update May 28, 2010 1:15pm - From Care2, this article is more in depth of how Susie's Law came about:

Last August an eight-week old pit-bull shepherd mix was found by a passer-by in Greenfield Park in Greensboro, North Carolina. She had second and third-degree burns covering more than 60 percent of her body, along with a broken jaw and teeth. More than 300 maggots found on her body left vets to conclude she had been left for dead two weeks prior.
Despite the severity of her injuries, the puppy who has since been named Susie, fought to live and was lucky enough to get taken in by the Guilford County Animal Shelter, receive extensive vet care and find a new loving home.
While what would push someone to commit these acts of cruelty is unfathomable to most people the guilty party here, Lashawn Whitehead, then 20, gave the explanation that the dog jumped on the couch next to his newborn and he just “lost it.” Yes, this man has a newborn baby too.
Whitehead was sentenced in March and received probation for animal cruelty and six-eight months in jail for setting personal property on fire. Despite the disturbing nature of the crime, the state’s laws currently only call for probation for a first offense.
Disappointed by the outcome of the sentencing, Susie’s supporters set out to gain support for tougher penalties for animal abusers in North Carolina with Susie’s Law, S.B. 254. Community members wrote lawmakers and canvassed neighborhoods with information packets about new legislation that would make animal abuse a Class F felony, which would allow judges to hand out a jail sentence to those convicted. Animal cruelty is currently a Class I felony, which doesn’t include jail time.
Advocates of the law are also pushing for tougher laws against animal abusers with the sentiment that it’s something that can benefit children and families as well. Animal abuse is a well-known predictor of violence towards humans and other crimes.
A few state representatives stepped up to sponsor the bill that passed the Judiciary III Committee and House of Representatives unanimously with bipartisan support this week. Susie’s Law is now on its way to the state Senate where it will either be sent on to the governor for a signature, or sent back to committee. If it’s signed into law, it will take effect on December 1.
Meanwhile, Susie’s reportedly working on campaigning for the law in her honor, in addition to training to be a therapy dog who will visit burn units, among other facilities.

Video: Susie's Journey - WARNING: Contains images that most rational people may find disturbing.

Update June 8, 2010 12:36pm - The following article is by Ogi Overman of Jamestown News:

Susie's Law clears House, awaits Senate passage
Jamestown Rotary Club had a celebrity in its midst at its June 1 meeting. No, it wasn't a movie star or politician or famous athlete or military hero - it was a dog.
Susie, the pit bull-shepherd mix puppy who was burned and beaten and left for dead last August, has captured the hearts of animal lovers across the state and has become the symbol for a crusade against lenient animal-abuse laws that has made its way to the N.C. General Assembly. Susie, her adoptive owner, Donna Lawrence, and two assistants, gave a presentation to the local Rotary detailing Susie's story and how it has evolved into a mission to strengthen the state's cruelty-to-animals statutes. The year-old pooch is now the namesake for Susie's Law, which is currently awaiting passage in the state legislature and is expected to be signed into law, albeit perhaps not in its original form.
The saga began August 9, 2009, when a 21-year-old Greensboro man, Lashawn Whitehead, poured lighter fluid on his girlfriend's eight-week-old puppy and set it afire, after kicking its teeth out and breaking its jaw. The dog managed to escape the attack and was found two weeks later by a passerby walking in a park, with second- and third-degree burns over 60 percent of its body and covered in maggots. The passerby called animal control, who took the dog to the shelter, where they debated whether or not to put it out of its misery.
“She was so happy that someone was helping her, so excited to see humans, that they decided to try and save her,” said Lawrence.
“Marsha, who runs the shelter, told me that she looked up at her with those big brown eyes and was wagging her tail, and she said, ‘We've got to help this dog; she wants to live,' So the vets went to work on her immediately.”
A local couple, Bob and Roberta Wall, volunteered to provide a foster home for the puppy, who by now had become known as Susie. After a two-month ordeal of almost daily trips to the shelter for treatment, Susie was deemed fit enough for adoption. That's when Lawrence, owner of a Greensboro beauty salon, The Kutting Edge, stepped in.
“I'd already been helping Roberta and Bob as part of an assistance network we'd set up,” she recalled. “They'd planned a vacation before any of this happened, so I said go ahead, that I'd stay at their house and look after Susie. They had a room set up for her, and she was still on medication and needed a lot of treatment. She couldn't go outside or be around other animals. But during that week I fell in love with her. Later they started letting me keep her at my house two or three nights a week, and I was falling more and more in love with her.”
When it came time for permanent adoption, around 60 people had volunteered, but many were scared off by Susie's breed and the level of care she still required. But not Lawrence, who was awarded ownership in December. Ironically, Susie's first public appearance was in the Jamestown Rotary Christmas Parade.
When Whitehead had his day in court, Lawrence, the Walls and several dozen supporters and animal-rights activists made sure he was able to face his accusers. Susie, by now her wounds healing but scar tissue over much of her body and her ears amputated, was the star witness. She sat nonchalantly through the proceedings, but did manage to get her picture in the Greensboro News & Record, looking up and giving her paw to Bob Wall. That photo has since become the signature shot of Susie that is used on all the postcards and literature asking for support for Susie's Law.
Much to the dismay of the packed courtroom, however, because of the state's structured sentencing guidelines, Whitehead was given a suspended sentence and probation on the animal cruelty charges. He did receive an eight-month active sentence on an unrelated charge of taking indecent liberties with a minor, but that did nothing to allay the outrage of Lawrence and the Walls.
“The judge said his hands were tied because of the way the laws are set up in North Carolina,” said Lawrence. “We didn't know the law; we assumed he'd get jail time for something that heinous. So we decided that very day that we had to do something to get the law changed.”
Because of the media coverage, the small group of Susie's supporters quickly grew into a large group. And some of that group included people who could actually do something about getting the law changed. Sen. Don Vaughn (D-Guilford) co-sponsored a bill in the state Senate, deeming it “Susie's Law,” and representatives Pricey Harrison, Maggie Jeffus, Alma Adams and Laura Wiley became the primary sponsors of the House bill.
Meanwhile Lawrence & Co. went into high gear statewide. They began sending out flyers, postcards and emails, imploring citizens to write to their legislators, even going door to door soliciting support. They set up a Facebook page for Susie's Law, which now has almost 20,000 fans. They also have a network of county coordinators who are organizing local events.
“They set up events and we bring Susie,” smiled Lawrence. “Everybody wants to see Susie. We've been all over the state meeting people. It's amazing the support we've received and the stories we've heard of abuse and neglect. It's really heartbreaking some of the things that have been done to animals, and people get away with it.”
At the moment, Susie's Law, H.B. 1690, has passed the House unanimously, 113-0, while the Senate version, S.B. 254, has passed the Judiciary I Committee and is awaiting a floor vote. It has been watered down somewhat, from a Class F felony to a Class H, but would still give judges the leeway to give active sentences rather than probation. In its current state it makes it a Class H felony for any person who would “maliciously torture, mutilate, maim, cruelly beat, disfigure, poison, or kill, or cause or procure to (do same) any animal, or maliciously cause to be killed an animal by intentional deprivation of necessary sustenance.”
Lawrence herself, with Susie in tow, appeared before the House Judiciary III committee, which referred the bill to the floor for a vote. While it did pass unanimously, there was some opposition in committee. Although she didn't name names, lameduck Rep. Nick Mackey (D-Mecklenburg) sought to amend it to make animal torture and cruelty misdemeanors, and Henri McClee of the N.C. Sporting Dog Association made a plea for it to be defeated outright.
If one might wonder why Lawrence is so passionate about this cause, the answer can be found in both her Christian faith and a personal experience of being attacked by a dog.
“A year and a half ago I was attacked by an abandoned and abused pit bull,” she disclosed. “It threw me to the ground and was in full attack mode. It locked down on my ankle and was going to take my leg off. Then I heard a voice from an angel saying, ‘Roll back and roll away.' ... Then I lunged for his throat and had my hand in his mouth and he was biting my hand, and I heard the voice say, ‘Run, run away.' ... I was bleeding and in shock but ran about a quarter-mile to a neighbor. I had 40 stitches in my hand and couldn't walk for six weeks. The doctor said I was lucky to be alive.
“I had nightmares and was still afraid of dogs when I met Susie. I saw her overcome her fear of humans and felt the Lord saying if a dog can let go of fear after what she's been through, I can do it too. She brings hope. It spoke a message to me of hope and forgiveness and love and the will to live. And that's the message I'm trying to spread. Susie's the voice for other animals, and I'm trying to give voice to her.”

Update June 23, 2010 1:53pm - The following article is from WAVY:
NC Governor toughens animal cruelty laws

North Carolina has a new law bearing its governor's signature and a dog's paw print that could put people in jail for the worst cases of animal abuse.
Gov. Beverly Perdue on Wednesday signed a measure that threatens jail time for those who torture, starve or kill an animal.
The punishment could be up to eight months behind bars, but a judge could agree to community service instead.
On hand was Susie, who was a puppy last year when she was burned, beaten and left to die. A judge said state law allowed him to sentence the Greensboro man who abused Susie to no more than probation.
After Perdue signed it, the owners of the female pit-bull mix placed Susie's paw on an inkpad and added her mark to the document.

Update July 18, 2010 10:37pm - The following article is by Rhonda Evans, WFMY:

Susie's Miracle Jam Raises Money To Help Injured Animals

A dog who survived being burned and helped pass animal cruelty legislation is now helping raise money for other animals just like her.
Susie's Miracle Jam is part fundraiser and part celebration for Susie, a one year old pit bull mix that was found burned and left for dead in a Greensboro park last August.
Sunday she was joined by the community at Anton's Restaurant on Battleground Avenue in Greensboro to raise money to pay veterinary bills for injured and abused animals.
Susie and her owner also played a major role in helping pass legislation that calls for harsher penalties for animal abusers.
The "Jam" Sunday was met with some sadness, though. The night before a couple found another puppy on the side of the road with burn injuries. Some of the money raised at this fundraiser will go toward paying vet bills for the latest burned puppy.
If you would like to donate to Susie's Fund, you can contact the Guilford County Animal Shelter at (336)297-5020.

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