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Lobdell: When did pets become more important than humans?

December 20, 2010|By William Lobdell

What should be the criminal penalty for angrily swinging an 8-pound puppy from the end of a leash like a lasso, then kicking the dog hard enough so it skids across asphalt, and then twice smacking the Chihuahua-dachshund mix across the face?

OK, remember your answer.

Now, what should be the penalty for driving while drunk, hitting a car that overturns twice and critically injuring a man who dies six months later, likely as a result of his injuries?

I hope you gave more time to the drunk driver than the dog abuser, though these days it doesn't seem to be such a clear-cut call.

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In a recent court case, Orange County prosecutors wanted Verne Joseph Strong, 57, of Newport Beach, to be convicted on felony animal abuse charges and sent to state prison. Because he was on parole for a commercial burglary conviction, Strong's sentence could have been longer than normal for dog abuse.

But an Orange County Superior Court judge allowed Strong to plead guilty last week to one misdemeanor count of animal abuse and sentenced him to time served — 317 days in jail — and three years of informal probation.

Nearly a year in jail for yanking around, kicking and hitting a puppy seems about right in my book. (By the way, the puppy, Meanie, is doing fine at an animal shelter in Westminster.)

I don't blame the Orange County district attorney's office for trying to get a stiffer sentence. The story got some media play, and it doesn't hurt the political image of Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas to be tough as a chew bone on puppy abusers.

But the justice system's treatment of Strong brought to light a double standard that I'm seeing with increasing frequency: the tendency to treat people who hurt animals more harshly than people who hurt human beings.

Take, for example, the local case of Steve Galiher, a featured pastor on the Trinity Broadcasting Network, which has studios in Costa Mesa (the wedding cake building on Bear Street across the San Diego (405) Freeway from South Coast Plaza).

Last year, he drove drunk — about three times over the legal limit — down the Corona del Mar (73) Freeway at an estimated 85 mph and crashed into a car, which overturned twice and severely injured a 70-year-old man.

Six months later, the victim, who had been a swimmer and tennis player prior to the crash, died of pneumonia. It was a result, his family said, of injuries sustained in the accident.

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