Lawmaker looks into state animal cruelty laws after Madison Co. case

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In her 12 years as a legislator, Representative Terri Austin said she hasn’t seen a case like this. A Madison County farmer could face several charges after investigators found more than 170 dead animals and dozens more malnourished on his property.

“To have it go on and perpetuated for so long, that is stunning to people,” said Rep. Austin, D-Anderson.

Prosecutors are still working to file charges against the owners of the farm, Daniel Ault and his wife, Carrie. Mr. Ault told Fox59 last month the case was being blown out of proportion.

“In this business, anyone who trades and sells in livestock loses animals every day and every week,” said Ault.  “It may not be to the public eye, but it happens everywhere.”

It has Austin asking, are Indiana’s animal cruelty laws adequate?

Investigators said the cleanup at the Aults’ farm is done. They’ve condemned a home and the barn where the family was apparently living in.

Now, they’re taking lessons learned to local lawmakers.

“It’s been a learning experience and I’m sure we’ll learn more along the way,” said Ron Richardson, Madison County Sheriff.

During their investigation, sheriff deputies found a disparity in Indiana’s state laws. According to state statutes, facing animal abandonment or neglect is a class A misdemeanor. It’s a Class D felony if the owner has a prior conviction. However, a statute for failing to bury animals within 24 hours after a dead animal was found is a Class D felony.

“If that neglect leads to death, shouldn’t it be a felony?” said Richardson.

“It just didn’t seem to make sense,” said Austin. “As we were talking about it and realizing what some of the limitations were, it made sense for the legislators to look at the existing penalties and consequences.”

With the legislative session over for the year, Austin knows change is still a long way’s away. This summer, she hopes to bring together a group of stakeholders, animal rights advocates, vets and farmers so cases like this don’t fly under the radar.

“Hopefully we can educate people to take better care of animals,” said Richardson.

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