INDIANAPOLIS — A new push is underway to stiffen the penalties for irresponsible pet owners in the City of Indianapolis.
An animal welfare group, Friends of Indianapolis Dogs Outside, is proposing raising the minimum fine for a care and treatment ordinance violation from $25 to $200.
FIDO’s proposal also suggests a $500 fine for second or subsequent violations.
The group’s push comes after pet owner Melinda Ryan received a $100 fine plus court costs after admitting to three care and treatment ordinance violations.
Ryan’s Pitbull mix, Flash, died in June while tethered in hot weather in his own backyard.
“That’s a token amount for the amount of suffering and death that dog experienced,” said FIDO founder Darcie Kurtz. “Even just a financial penalty should have been much higher.”
City county councilor Andy Harris said he supports the measure.
“I would very much be in favor of increasing the fine, and I have no problem with a $500 violation,” said Harris. “You’ve got to make it hurt and 500 dollars would get their attention.”
Harris said $25 is too low.
“They need to be held accountable,” said Harris. “If you have a dog, I would hope you would love and care.”
Harris said he would welcome any proposals that would come to the city’s public safety committee.
Flash’s death and Ryan’s punishment have prompted outrage from the community, many of whom say Ryan should not be allowed to keep animals.
However, per a plea agreement, Ryan can keep two other dogs as long as they’re microchipped and fixed.
She also had to sign something saying she will follow the city’s care and treatment ordinance and must protect her dogs from excessive heat or cold.
There’s nothing in the agreement requiring Indianapolis Animal Care Services to monitor Ryan and ensure she’s following the city’s care and treatment ordinance with her other dogs.
“I think there’s a tendency to give people a second chance,” said Kurtz. “I think there are some people that just make horrible mistakes.”
Kurtz said typically pet owners are only banned from keeping dogs in extreme cases.
“That’s typically for chronic offenders who do this over and over again,” said Kurtz.
Both FIDO and city county councilor Andy Harris said the city needs to look at further restrictions on irresponsible pet owners.
“If they just don’t care, they need to be held accountable and they should not be allowed to have animals under their care if they’re not going to care for them,” said Harris.
When IACS officers responded to Ryan’s home to investigate Flash’s death, they found two other dogs “stuffed into a medium size crate.”
“These two dogs did not have much room to move at all,” wrote an IACS officer in the report. “I also advised if both dogs need to be crated they will need to be crated separately to give them enough room to move around and actually lay down.”
Ryan did not face any jail time, because she has not been criminally charged in connection with Flash’s death.
It’s unclear if the Marion County prosecutor’s office has made a final determination on whether to charge Ryan with a crime.
This winter, Gordon Turentine left his dog outside to freeze to death and received a year probation.
“He knew the weather was life threatening and he left his dog out there anyways,” said Kurtz. “At least during probation, he can’t own animals. That’s a start.”
RTV6 reached out to Indianapolis Animal Care Services for their stance on increased penalties.
“It’s our job to enforce the ordinance and the ordinance provides the minimum fine,” said IACS spokeswoman Brandi Pahl.
City county councilor Zach Adamson said state lawmakers need to do something as well.
“They could start by mirroring our local ordinance and putting criminal penalties behind it,” said Adamson. “In addition, prohibit any violators from owning pets in the future."
RTV6 is working for you and reaching out to state lawmakers to find out what they’re doing on this issue.
We found a petition online that’s gathered nearly 30,000 signatures asking state lawmakers to increase the punishments for animal torture.
You can reach out to your city county councilors and state lawmakers to let them know what you think about this issue.