AVONDALE — It seems appropriate that a bill addressing animal abuse would be introduced during a week that saw a drastic rise in complaints due to pets left outside in subzero temperatures.
Rep. Toni Berrios (D-Chicago), who represents much of Avondale, Logan Square and Hermosa, said the timing of her new animal abuse bill introduced Wednesday was a coincidence, but the recent cold weather really brought the issue to light.
"We've been reading a lot of articles about individuals being caught mistreating animals, and so we thought maybe it was time we put through legislation to go after these individuals," Berrios said. "It's just heartbreaking to hear about animals being left outside in the cold especially now. We got a lot of calls in the office these last few days from people concerned about their neighbors' dogs left outside."
To help combat the issue, Berrios first filed a bill last month that would increase penalties for first-time offenses from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class 4 felony. As it stands, animal abusers are only charged with a felony after subsequent convictions.
That measure was followed by this week's bill that would create an animal abuse registry to keep track of those convicted of animal cruelty. Those registered would then be barred from owning a companion animal or even from working around animals, such as in shelters, pet shops or zoos.
According to the Humane Society, recent years have seen more and more states making certain types of animal abuse or neglect a felony on the first offense. Only North and South Dakota cap penalties at misdemeanors, even for repeated offenders.
Though Berrios doesn't have any pets herself, she said the issue is near and dear to her heart.
"I love, love dogs — I grew up with dogs, but I know I'm not home enough to be a good dog owner," she said.
Even if she doesn't have pets herself, Berrios knows how important their well being is to those in her district.
Events she hosts to offer pets vaccinations, spaying and neutering "are my best attended events," she said. "People love their pets."
State legislators return to Springfield Jan. 28.